Imani Tafari-Ama | Decolonization Laws and Embodied Practices | On point


My daughter is looking forward to her sweet 16 birthday next month with great anticipation. It is a kind of coming of age before the onset of adulthood. I am determined to make this occasion a memorable opportunity to build relationships. This moment of rite of passage, however, made me reflect on the contradiction involved in the Sexual Offenses Act, which treats children 16 and older, the age of sexual consent, as tactical adults. Of course, this provision also allows some boys or pedophiles to imagine that they might be smart enough to make decisions about the timing for my child to be placed under sexual control.

Choosing to set the age of consent at 16 is contradictory. At 16, a child has not reached the legal status of an adult. A child cannot vote and, as a minor, cannot take responsibility for the possibility of sexual relations resulting in pregnancy. By default, this social burden falls squarely on the shoulders of parents or extended family. Children born to teenage mothers live in precariousness when the teenager is alone. For stability, relatives intervene and provide support. Many children born to teenage mothers are raised by grandparents, aunts, sisters and other women.

The age of sexual consent is also a gendered provision. Boys are not subject to specific age limits for sexual initiation and bear no obvious consequences for being allowed to have sex with their female counterparts. In case of pregnancy, parents of boys are sometimes de factootherwise de jure supporters of child education. Often, babyfathers are grown men who can pass away rather than risk taking on the responsibility of fatherhood. Yet sometimes these unions are based on love and work, against all odds.

Same-sex couples are apparently not counted in the conjugation of the age of sexual consent. However, the criminalization of homosexual acts, also a colonial law, already proclaims the heterosexist borders of the legal system for the consideration of “normal” and “taboo” sexualities. The feminist cliché that the personal is political is therefore more relevant than ever, especially when it comes to tackling the conundrum of gender and the social abilities of its youthful protagonists.


Debates have raged for decades about the effectiveness of the age of sexual consent at 16 and the pros and cons of raising or lowering it. Objectors argue that lowering the age encourages the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. On the other hand, those who are in favor of lowering the age limit observe that boys and girls begin to have sexual activities as young as 9 or 10 years old. Advocates of juvenile sexual activity suggest that adults who argue that a lower age of consent is a catalyst for sexual initiation are burying their heads in the proverbial sand, unaware of raging hormones and the impetus for sex. sexual pleasure. This endorsement sends a signal to sexual predators that the way is clear to be right with a child, a legal minor, without punishment. However, someone who has sex with a child under 16 can be charged with statutory rape.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) provides a major platform for advocacy for gender justice. This arena contains many causes of anxiety for activists and policy makers. Fertility and fertility issues are tectonic fault lines that threaten to crack citizens’ security and relationships. Regulating the age of consent is rooted in European colonial ownership and control not only of African labor but also of bodies, objectified for their reproductive value. The controlling bodies were an integral part of the patriarchal and cross-racialized restrictions that European men in power exerted on the sexuality of women, men, boys, and girls under the for-profit plantation regime.

Allowing 16-year-old girls to have sex also seems to have a class-specific subtext. Clearly, higher education is not meant to be the main field for those seeking early sexual engagement. If upper-class girls are having sex, they are more likely than girls from underserved communities to access abortion services, locally or abroad, since abortion is illegal in Jamaica. Girls and women in underserved communities who have unwanted pregnancies often explore unsafe abortion options, at great risk to their personal well-being. Girls and women from privileged backgrounds can also more easily escape the long-reaching social stigma attached to people seen as cultural graveyards for choosing to end their lives rather than bear an unwanted child.

The legal instrument informing abortion also dates back to the colonial plantation. The law is housed under the Sexual Offenses Against the Person Act 1864, which stems from an English statute of the same name. This law states that “Any person who, with intent to induce miscarriage, whether the woman is pregnant or not, unlawfully administers poison or anything injurious to her, or unlawfully uses any instrument or other means for the same purpose is liable life imprisonment. , with or without forced labour. A pregnant woman who acts in the same way with regard to her own pregnancy is liable to the same penalty”.


To date, health practitioners are reluctant to help women perform abortions because of the danger it poses to their licensure. In the United States, the leaked draft proposal to strike down the seemingly sacrosanct 1973 law Roe vs. Wade decision that provided protection to women who chose to terminate their pregnancies is cringing in many closets. The moral argument favors the right to life lobby and poses a threat to those opting for the right to choose termination.

Along the same lines, infanticide was also punishable under colonial law. However, many enslaved women preferred to end the lives of their children rather than subject them to the horrors of slavery. Historian and former mayor of Montego Bay, Shalman Scott, documented in an article in the Jamaica Observer that the famous Sabina Park cricket ground was named after an enslaved African woman of the same name. Sabina was previously owned by wealthy landowner Joseph Gordon, who was also the father of national hero George William Gordon. Sabina Park gained notoriety because she paid the ultimate price for choosing to end the life of her four-month-old child. Like many of her peers who chose embodied means to resist the enforced subjugation systems of colonialism, Sabina Park preferred to challenge the structures of domination by taking the lives of her offspring into her own hands. She defended her decision in Half-Way Tree Court saying she had long suffered from slavery and did not intend for her child to suffer the same fate under by Backra Watch (European/master). Sabina Park was charged with murder and hanged at the location of today’s famous Sabina Park cricket stadium.

These cross-cutting linkages underscore the importance of decolonizing the laws that govern morals, behaviors and social relationships towards the development of more people-centered and culturally relevant pieces of legislation.

– Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, Regional Coordination Office (IGDS-RCO), University of the West Indies. Send your comments to [email protected]


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