Chiefs oppose moves to decriminalise sex between teenagers

Traditional courts - file photo - (James Oatway)

Traditional courts - file photo - (James Oatway)

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), objecting fiercely to the proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act, told the justice committee in Parliament that justifying sexual acts between children was not acceptable.

In its submission during the extended public participation process, Contralesa said decriminalisation might remove the power of families to mete out punishment and would take the country back to the time of Sodom and Gomorrah, the justice committee heard today.

Last year the Constitutional Court gave Parliament 18 months to amend sections 15 and 16 of the Act, which were deemed unconstitutional as they infringed on the rights of adolescents to dignity and privacy.

Contralesa chairperson Prince Manene Tabane said from a traditional and cultural point of view, age was not a deciding factor in sexual engagements.

“We allow that situation to happen when, from a boy’s side, they have graduated from initiation school. From the girl’s side, it is when their male counterparts have graduated, or when adults in the family can agree that she has reached that stage, which is purely an aspect of parenting. When they feel they can negotiate on the issues of lobola, that this girl can now get married.

“Because of the Constitution that we have, we had to accept that the [age of consent year] was at least 18 years of age or 21 and above.
We cannot support the [amendments] which seeks to encourage sex between children.”

Legislation suffocates ‘our people’
Contralesa believed the proposed amendments should not even have made it this far.

Contralesa’s Zolani Mkiva said the country should not make laws that would suffocate “our people. “The manner in which the laws are made, needs consistency and should be informed by what is happening in our communities.”

The age of consent is 16.

Committee chairperson ANC MP Mathole Motshekga challenged Contralesa to get more involved in curbing moral degeneration and come up with ways to prevent children from participating in sexual activities.

Asked by African Democratic Christian Party MP Steve Swart how traditional leaders dealt with children involved in consensual sex, Mkiva said it was viewed as a scandal and dealt with internally.

“They are also punished just enough that it doesn’t occur again.”

Effect of criminalisation
Issues of virginity testing and the roles of kings and queens and traditional councils in educating children also rose during the submission.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was asked to comment on the effect criminalisation of sexual conduct between 12- to 16-year-olds has had, the challenges experienced in managing the National Register of Sexual Offenders and their views in the amendments affecting their operations.

The NPA said there were few cases prosecuted in the past where both people were children aged 12 to 16. It said the amendments would reduce the number of cases presented to the NPA for decision.

The National Interfaith Council of South Africa pledged their support for the amendments and volunteered to help people understand the differences between decriminalisation and legalisation. The council also offered to spread the message that the amendments were not about decreasing the age of consent, which would remain 16.

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