Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 18 November 2013 | 5,186 times

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Austin Frederic Harrison (1873-1928) was a notable British journalist and editor, who became acclaimed in the thinking of media historians, because of his remarkable editorship of the English Review from 1909 until 1923. This is because at the time he assumed duty as editor of the English Review the circulation of the paper had plummeted to as low as 1,000 but rose to 18,000 by 1911.

R.N. Munshi, in his recent book “World Famous Quotations,” credited Austin Harrison with making an emphatic statement about sex as follows: “A woman is judged by sex, a man by life.”

A keen observer of the world of entertainment reports emanating from Hollywood in the United States of America and the British capital of London will note that the female gender has increasingly come under greater focus and caricature as a sex symbol.

In this piece, however, our attention is not focused on the achievements in the media industry of Austin Harrison but on his thought about sex as claimed by the contemporary author aforementioned in which he seemed to be arguing that the female gender is a sex symbol. 

We are therefore returning to the important issue of sex because of the raging debate in the United Kingdom regarding whether the age of consent for sex should be adjusted to 15 years as canvassed by the respected President of the Faculty of Public Health in Britain, Professor John Ashton. As we know now, the age of consent for sex in Britain is 16 or older; very much close to what obtains in Nigeria. In Britain, for instance, a boy who has sex with a girl under 16 is breaking the law even if she agrees. If she is 13-15 years of age, the boy could go to prison for two years if convicted. If a girl is under 13 a boy who has sex with her could be sentenced to life imprisonment. A girl age 16 or over who has sex with a boy under 16 can be prosecuted for indecent assault. These facts are contained in the website of http://www.bbc.com/.

Captivated by this swift return to the topic of sex, I thereby decided to consult the website of the most respected independent electronic medium in the United Kingdom which is the SkyNews television.

As a background to this whole debate and talk about sex, it must be noted that the faculty of public health is a part of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, charged with the legal responsibility and duty of giving advice to ministers and civil servants, although it is said to be independent.

The call for a backward review of age of consent for sex in the United Kingdom has however received considerable negative reactions both from official and un-official segments.

In a story anchored in the SkyNews television on November 18, 2013, the reporter concluded that Prof. Ashton’s intervention comes against a backdrop of official figures which suggest that up to a third of teenagers have sex before the present age of consent of 16.

There are however scanty reports showing how many violators have had to face the full weight of the law even in Britain that is reputed for strict compliance to the letters and principles of the Rule of Law.

Prof. Ashton told Sky News: “The problem we have got is we have got this massive sexualisation and pornographication of childhood and early adolescence. Lowering the age would make it easier for 15-year-olds to get contraception.

“Huge commercial interests – pop music, fashion, internet pornography everywhere, social media. There doesn’t seem to be any real appetite among politicians and leaders to address this. in the meantime, our young people are becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages. If we are not going to create an environment where they are not sexualised, then we need to address their needs.

Prof. Ashton added: “What we know from other European countries that have lower ages of sexual consent, I am thinking here particularly about the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, is that very often what that leads to is where there's an atmosphere of discussion within the family, within the school, within the social environment, they actually defer putting off sex, even though the age of consent is lower, and that they have lower teenage pregnancy rates.

“It also means if they are not indulging in what's illegal activity, they won’t be frightened to come forward for help if they are getting involved in a dangerous situation with an older male who’s grooming them or what have you.

“We have got this conundrum. Where you have got illegal activity which large numbers of people are engaging in, you are creating an environment of risk, potential abuse, potential exploitation.

“We need to do something about the sexualisation of childhood, and we need to do something about responding properly to the needs of young people who are becoming sexually active, perhaps with somebody of a similar age where it is part of a normal maturing process into adult life, but also so that we can begin to tackle this problem of girls particularly, being exploited by older males.”

From all intents and purposes, Prof. Ashton’s point of view is cogent, verifiable and germane just as these disturbing trends he intellectually and pragmatically espoused and deposited in the public domain for debate have global application because even in Nigeria, the society is battling with an avalanche of cases of sexual violations of teenage girls and also growing trend of teenage pregnancies.

The situation in Nigeria has even assumed a dramatic stage because we now have an unknown phenomenon called babies’ factories that have sprung up from all corners of Nigeria run by organised crime gangs who maintain illegal maternity facilities whereby teenage girls from poor homes are lured into illegal pregnancies and paid to sell off their babies to rich clients.

In Nigeria, the age of consent for sex is at par with the politically recognised universal adult suffrage put at 18 years. This age of consent for sex put at 18 years in Nigeria is said to have derived from the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child of 1990 which legal scholars have identified as the second major human rights treaty in the African continent just as Nigeria ratified it on June 23, 2001.   

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990 was adopted on July 11, 1990 by the defunct Organization of African Unity (now African Union) and it came into force on November 29, 1999.

Joy Ngozi Ezeilo is a reputable law teacher who has achieved fame and acclaim in her chosen profession. In her scholarly book titled “Women, Law and Human Rights: Global and National Perspectives”, this brilliant writer had lucidly argued that the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child came at the heels of the United Nations convention on the Rights of the child which in her intellectual conclusion, similarly recognised wide range of rights, civil and political, socio, economic and cultural as well as right to development.

Ezeilo argued that the African version is higher in purity, form and substance than the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child.

She wrote thus: “It can be argued, albeit effectively, that this Charter is of higher threshold than the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, as it dealt with a subject that the latter shied away from. For example, Article 21 stipulates that:  State Parties to the present Charter shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices affecting the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child and in particular; that those customs and practices prejudicial to the health or life of the child; and that those customs and practices discriminatory to the child on the grounds of sex or other status [must be abolished].

“Secondly, the African charter stated clearly how illegal and unconstitutional child marriage and the betrothal of girls and boys is and shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years and make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory.”

From the submissions of Professor Ezeilo grounded in extant laws, it is assumed that 18 years is the official age of consent for sex in Africa. But why do we have so much teenage pregnancies by girls as little as 14 in Nigeria even with this higher age of consent?

Another question is why relevant government agencies are not compelled by law to enforce relevant laws against sexual violations of girls who are less than 18 years?

Not long ago, a serving Nigerian Senator who participated in the passage of a national child rights law which stipulates 18 years as age of consent for sex, was in the news for flagrantly breaching this law by marrying a 13-year-old Egyptian girl in a wedding ceremony consummated in Abuja whereby this same law was passed and signed.

In most parts of Europe whereby the age of consent for sex is significantly lower, there are almost total absence of such negative trends such as teenage pregnancies and high rate of sexually transmitted diseases that are present in Britain and in greater proportion in Nigeria.

David Niven, a blogger, added his voice to this raging debate by saying: “The debate, however, is much more complex than reactions on an instinctive level. To my mind there are serious anomalies in some of our European partner countries that just don’t seem to make safeguarding sense. Germany for example, the power house of European economy and a country considered to be a sophisticated democracy still has the age of consent at 14 as long as a person over the age of 21 does not exploit a 14-15 year-old person’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.    

“Spain has recently engaged in a critical debate following various cases that have come to light (one in particular where child of 13 insisted that she was having a consensual relationship with a man of 39], this was legal. Now the Spanish authorities are speaking out in favour of increasing the age of consent to 16 but apparently are receiving cultural objections from the large Romany community in Spain, who insist the age of marriage is part of their tradition at 13.”

For me, I am happy that we are gradually returning to this all important romantic question of sex vis-à-vis the most acceptable age of consent for sex.

In Nigeria, whereby abortion and other contraceptives are not officially made available to youngsters, one begins to wonder why the law enforcement mechanism is weak in apprehending and legally sanctioning morally depraved male adults who engage in the wanton sexual violations of teenage girls who are far below the age of consent for sex in compliance with extant legal provisions.

There is therefore the urgent need for national debate to begin on ways and means of protecting these vulnerable girls and also on how to use effective law enforcement to check such illegalities including the growing trend of baby factories which seem unfortunately to be native and/or indigenous to Nigeria.

RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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