Cape Town - Advocacy groups have welcomed the passing of a bill that decriminalises sex between consenting adolescents as young as 12.
Changes made to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill makes it legal for children aged 12 to 15 to engage in sexual activities without being prosecuted.
Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan) executive director Christina Nomdo said the organisation welcomed the bill being signed into law but said people needed to understand that it does not promote sex among adolescents.
“The previous law was asking for criminalisation in what we believe is normal behaviour.”
Nomdo added that the law was not encouraging youngsters to engage in sexual activity but merely protects them from prosecution.
“I am very disappointed in the way the media have handled this. They have decided to lose the plot because of not understanding the previous law.”
She said the law simply “decriminalises sex and also places the duty on parents and not the state”.
“The law makes it clear it is not the government’s duty to raise children, but the parents’. We would like to support parents so their children make good life choices.”
Nomdo added that the law also protects those aged 16 and 17 from prosecution should they engage in sex with their peers.
Sonke Gender Justice spokesman Mbuyiselo Botha also welcomed the decision and said that it was now up to parents to be open about sex to their children.
“It forces us, as parents and a community, to rethink sexuality. Why do we not educate our children about sex? We choose to criminalise it because it is the easier option.
“The only time we talk to our children about sex is when there is an unplanned pregnancy and when there is an outcry,” he added.
“We are conservative as a society, we are never proactive and engaging with our children. These are topics we can’t talk about. They (parents) think when you talk about it you encourage them, but the thing is they know more than we do. They have more information and we are left behind as parents because of conservative thinking and attitudes.”
Botha added that many parents are caught up in a “vicious cycle” and don’t talk about sex to their children because they were never taught about it by their parents.
“When they ask us we must be genuine with them, not talk about the birds and bees. It is important that the home becomes the call centre of sex and sexuality. Listen to what they are going through. You can’t always be using religion and culture. We have new challenges and respect that.”
He reiterated that parents should not stand back and wait for teachers at schools to do the work for them.
“You (parents) are going to be seen as immoral and ungodly and so, to retain your conservative life, you make that (sex) a no-go area,” said Botha.
The bill was passed into law after a “lengthy parliamentary process”, said the Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister John Jeffrey.
“It was in line with the Constitutional Court judgment which said consensual sex between adolescents should be decriminalised and also for another case relating to the inclusion of child offenders to the sex offenders registry.”
He said Parliament reached a unanimous decision on the matter after having to ask the Constitutional Court for more time because, “of a lot of negative reaction and misunderstandings”.
“Many saw it as a way to promote teenage sex,” Jeffrey said. “The bill is not saying that adolescents should experiment sexually. What it is saying is that they should not be criminalised. (We) still promote that they wait until they are mature enough to make choices about sex. It’s just that it can’t be a criminal offence.”