Like many other Kenyans, I was caught in the moral panic debate on the appropriate age for sex consent. Before that died out, the horrendous killing of girls on account of sex-related claims spread to Pwani University and Nyeri County.
A number of questions arise from the morally controversial debate as well as the cruel torture some girls have been put through.
What is sex and what is its function for the individual and society?
Is it the biological act that is the problem or is it our social construction of sex? Where or to whom do we assign the responsibility for a sour consented sex act? Why should a person encountered in a natural loving human act turn around to blackmail, extort, frame or even kill?
These are important questions. However, the compelling question here focuses on violent actions and revenge missions in intimate relationships.
We have three issues: reward (so everything goes lovely), conflict (arming to defend self-interest) and punishment (deterring or teaching a lesson).
The age of consent is definitely important for persons with legalistic minds.
It is actually understandable because society has people who do not think straight and so have inclination towards evil. Law exists to guide on appropriate punishment to exact on such people.
However, we also know many of our traditional communities did not have written documents on age consent, yet they religiously respected the girl child. The boy child was equally respected.
In some parts of the world, girls do not wear clothes that fully cover their ‘woman-hood’ but still go about their business until they are married. We can also learn from the Muslims.
Girls hardly – if at all – get themselves into sex consent issues until they are ready for marriage.
In addition, we have many girls who respect themselves till college or after college, and only then enter into sex consent matters for they are ready to transit into adult life.
Obviously, there are exceptions in each situation, but keep that as an exception, nothing more.
What this tells us is that the consent age question is minor, much as it has to be somewhere in law. The challenge we have as a society is on the kind of values we impart to children. If we bring them up with the consent booklet on the dining table, well, that is what they will consume and soon test out its veracity.
It is curious why a minor should be jailed for 18 years for abusing another minor as the two judges who provoked the debate on age consent correctly pointed out.
First, why don’t the learned friends simply cut down the sentence to a year or two? I believe deterrence is important, but the punishment must be proportional to the crime.
Second, conflict is at bottom line a fight over interests. Why reduce young girls to “emotionless” human beings who can only be abused and not actually be the predators? Yes, culture has heavily disadvantaged girls but they too can be aggressors.
Boys are refusing to be seen as the sole aggressors and girls always framed as the victims. The same way, men are increasingly refusing to be seen as the perpetrators in almost every incident of love-hate relationship.
Nevertheless, the shameful killing of girls is in fact a pointer to not just the power and control games between men and women on intimacy issues, but the misconception that torturing someone (physically, emotionally, mentally) or even eliminating a person that one is in conflict with is a “conflict solution”.
In a way it is, but a primitive one. People who enter into relationships and later turn into extortionists, blackmailers and framers of others have lost their basic humanity.
We must identify the sources of violence and disrupt them with immense but positive aggression. It is easy to project, transfer or pass on responsibility to others.
Rejection in love matters is not a contest (I must win and you lose badly) as young people, and of course, adults with psychological disorders believe. Even in painful separations or divorce, torture and killings must not be an option, and must never be contemplated.
Experiences and research encourage us that ‘talking it out’ – for or against a relationship - leads to amending our painful past and makes it easier to move on to new ventures.
Torturing and/or killing a partner – man or woman – takes a lifetime to heal, if ever. Is it worth trying it, really?
Dr Mokua – Executive Director, Jesuit Hakimani Centre