The new committee, which has replaced one which last sat in 2014, is chaired by Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, replacing former minister Mark Golding.
The committee has been assigned to review the Sexual Offences Act, and consider and review three other pieces of legislation — the Offences Against the Person Act, which includes provisions relating to acts of buggery; the Domestic Violence Act; and the Childcare and Protection Act.
When the previous committee last sat, on November 26, 2014, under the chairmanship of Senator Golding, it was discussed a presentation from the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA). At that meeting, the committee had extensive discussions on whether the age of consent should be adjusted from 16 years old to 18 years old.
The committee was contending with information, which Golding ascribed to a senior public health officer, that over 80 per cent of Jamaicans had sex by the time they were 18 years old.
Golding said then that with that kind of statistic in mind, the idea of increasing the age of consent to 18 pointed to an issue of whether the system would not be potentially criminalising “a vast majority of young persons”.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the new committee appointed on December 6, 2016, Chuck said they would focus on how they would proceed, especially in light of the fact that the 2017/18 budget would be tabled about February 9.
However, he noted that it was “absolutely clear” that the four acts to be reviewed by the committee are in “great need of revision”.
“Certainly events of the past indicate to us that we have to ensure that our women and children, in particular, are protected,” Chuck stated.
“To the extent that legislation can improve the care and protection of our women and children, then we must do what we can to improve or change the legislation, as the case may be,” he added.
Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, whose Senate motion in 2013 on violence against women and children encouraged the Parliament to widen the scope of the JSC to include the three additional Acts, and Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Floyd Green joined Senator Golding and other members of the committee in welcoming the resumption of the work of the committee.
Grange said that the committee had a great responsibility, especially in light of recent acts of violence against women and children in the society. She suggested that the committee seek to expeditiously address the issues.
The committee agreed to meet again on February 1 and 8 to continue its work, after spending the next two weeks sifting through submissions and/or resubmissions from the 29 individuals and institutions involved in the initial deliberations.
Other members of the committee attending Wednesday’s meeting were: Senators Saphire Longmore and Sophia Fraser-Binns, and MPs Marisa Dalrymple Philibert and Lynvale Bloomfield.