Antigua and Barbuda
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Gender advocate says raising age of sexual consent ‘won’t help’

Former Director of the Department of Youth Affairs Dr Cleon Athill (File photo)

By Makeida Antonio

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A gender advocate says increasing the age at which one can consent to sexual intercourse and its related activities will not deter predators from violating the country’s youth.

According to the Sexual Offences Act 1995, 16 is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity in Antigua and Barbuda.

Some have been outspoken in their campaign to raise the age of consent, attempting to further protect youngsters under 18 following several disturbing incidents of rape, sexual assault and incest involving children.

However, former Director of the Department of Youth Affairs Dr Cleon Athill believes that because sex is a natural, biological impulse, legally forcing teenagers to refrain from sexual activity won’t increase their level of sexual responsibility.

Instead, she continues to advocate for age-appropriate yet informative health and family life education.

“What I think should happen is that we have open discussions with our teenagers or our children as early as possible when they can ask questions and think, we have discussions with them about life, about diet, about things that they put into their bodies, and a part of that discussion is how they respect their bodies,” Dr Athill said in an interview.

She further highlighted the specific laws pertaining to the protection of 14- to 16-year-olds in the Sexual Offences Act 2015 which she said seem to be ignored by too many people.

“We have whole calypsos talking about ‘baby food’. We have men who still believe as fathers and stepfathers that they should be the first ones to ‘break in’ the girl.

“We have men in society who prey on girls as soon as they see the little bumps on their chest and their hips start getting wider. We have a big problem with how we engage our young people in how we talk about sex,” she explained.

Dr Athill recommended the removal of taboos and innuendoes which can misguide teens about their rights over their bodies, and instead frame sex in a healthy perspective.

“I agree with having a healthy environment where young people can begin to feel comfortable in their skin, understand that sex happens in the context of a relationship, understand that sex, just like eating and driving, whatever, is something that you have to engage in responsibly,” Dr Athill added.