New teen sex law gets past second base

18 June 2015 - 13:30 By Aarti J Narsee

The major political parties in Parliament's National Assembly have given changes to the teen sex law the thumbs-up. Members of Parliament debated the bill‚ called the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill‚ on Wednesday night and raised the importance of educating adolescents about sex.The bill states that consensual sexual acts between teenagers older than 12 is not a crime as long as the age gap between the two sex partners is less than two years.The bill also states that before children are listed on the National Register for Sex Offenders‚ a state prosecutor must apply for such an order. The court must also consider a report on the child's probability of committing another sexual offence before deciding whether to list them on the register or not.Dr Mathole Motshekga‚ member of the African National Congress and chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services‚ which adopted the bill last month‚ said: "We look at society and see children experimenting with sex‚ we say the solutions lies in education."The Democratic Alliance's Glynnis Breytenbach added that there was an "incorrect perception" about the amendments. She emphasised that the teen sex had to be consensual for it to escape legal punishment.African Christian Democratic Party member Steven Swart said that his party was in a "difficult position" as issues in the bill boil down to "religious sentiments"."We believe that it is morally wrong to engage in sexual activity but the reality is that it is happening‚" Swart said. He said society needed to play a role in educating children. He also emphasised that the message was not that adolescents should engage in sex.The amendments to the law‚ known in short as the Sexual Offences Act‚ come as a result of two Constitutional Court judgments.In 2013‚ the Constitutional Court ordered Parliament to amend the legislation after it ruled that sections 15 and 16 of the act were unconstitutional. These sections made consensual sexual acts between children aged between 12 and 16 a crime. The court also told Parliament to take another look at the sections dealing with the placing of children on the sex offenders register.Last month‚ the Constitutional Court granted Parliament an extension until August to fix the legislation after the original April deadline could not be met.The portfolio committee received more than 900 submissions on the bill and heard submissions over four days in March.After adopting the bill‚ the committee recommended that some aspects raised needed further investigation‚ such as the uncertainty regarding the age of sexual consent and circumstances in which an adolescent is incapable in law of consenting to a sexual act.The bill includes a preamble which states the importance of "discouraging adolescents from prematurely engaging in consensual sexual conduct which may harm their development‚ and from engaging in sexual conduct in a manner that increases the likelihood of the risks associated with sexual conduct materialising‚ are legitimate and important".Speaking after the debate‚ civil society organisations welcomed the support by political parties as a "major victory for children's rights."Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect director Christina Nomdo said: "The bill is a call to action to support adolescents to make good life choices especially in relation to sexual decision-making."The bill will now go to the National Council of Provinces before getting the final stamp of approval from the president. - TMG Courts and Law

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.