Let’s have honest talk about sex and children devoid of hypocrisy

For the first time, I was tempted to call into a radio talk show this week as Kenyans deliberated about the proposal by the Court of Appeal to lower the age of consent for girls to 16. I was amazed at how many of us continue to live in a fool’s paradise waxing lyrical about the collapse of morals if the age of consent was lowered. Before I explain the proposal by the Court of Appeal and the mischief they were trying to cure, let me remind us of a few facts.

First, many people who are parents today and are participating in this discourse lived in the pre-internet age, long before internet pornography was readily available on the average smartphone on free Wi-Fi. They lived at a time when society, whether in the village or urban estate, co-parented; we feared the neighbour’s mum just as much as we feared our own. They lived in an age where presidents in countries we admired laughing off deviant sexual dalliances within marriage was unthinkable. An age when it was difficult to access X-rated TV shows and movies without getting into serious trouble. Any, yet many of them were sexually active in high school, which would be about age 16. Yet they expect that in this day and age, when teenagers are living with these and other realities that promote sex and make it easily available, they will withstand the pressure and keep off early illicit sexual behaviour!  

Delegated critical role

Second, let’s be honest. When it comes to parenting, and particularly on sexual issues, many of us have delegated this critical role to teachers, peers, other folk and to e-gadgets. We live in amazing denial. Many of us would be shocked at the stuff our kids are indulging in freely on their phone, long before the urge to try it out becomes a reality. A pastor friend told me that children as young as eight are addicted to pornography, and readily try it out as soon as opportunity is available. Truth be told, if you are not having consistent honest conversations on sexual behaviour with your teenage children, and hopefully started long before teenage, your protestations on this matter are at best hypocritical. We have a problem, and the age of consent is merely a symptom, not the problem.

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Back to the Court of Appeal proposal. What Kenyans need to understand is the mischief that is sought to be cured. In our current Sexual Offences Act, a girl below the age of 18 is presumed not be able to consent to sex. This is reasonable proposition; such a girl is a child, and this presumption should not be readily rebuttable. What the judges are addressing is not, to my knowledge, the ability of children to consent to sex with adults. That can never be allowed in any context.

What is being addressed is the numerous circumstances in which adolescent boys are having consensual sex with adolescent girls, and the adolescent boy is sent to prison for 15 years, the minimum sentence in those circumstances. There is something inherently unjust about this situation. Many boys are serving long sentences courtesy of this situation. Any change in the law should address this specific situation; what is to be done when a 17-year-old has consensual sex with their 16-year-old girlfriend? Does he deserve prison? And while we are at it, if we want to punish what is essentially deviant behaviour, why punish the boy only? And why assume that in these situations the boy is the instigator?

The majority who support the lowering of the age of consent want it to apply only in these limited circumstances -- to decriminalise consensual sexual conduct between adolescents. The solution for this problem lies elsewhere, not prison. As for adult men, engagement in sex with anyone below 18 years is a travesty; the law cannot cover you. What gratifies me however is that we are having a conversation about sex and our children. I pray it will be honest and devoid of hypocritical self-righteousness, for this is the only way we will resolve this crisis.  

- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. [email protected]       

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Age of ConsentRapeTeenage PregnancyEarly Marriage