Thursday, July 19, 2007
Debating age of consent
Leslie Josephs. Jul 19, 2007
Peru lawmakers lower age of consent, but harsh government criticism takes the bill back to the floor.
After Peru’s celebrated 15-year-old chess whiz Emilio Córdova fell in love with a 29-year-old Brazilian woman and brought her home, Peruvians were not cheering his latest checkmate. Shouts of “provecho, provecho!” — “enjoy, enjoy!” — greeted him at the airport.
Peruvian sex columnist Esther Vargas cited in her column in the Peru21 newspaper an headline from the Argentine daily Clarín that read: “The young chess player in love returned to Lima and was treated as a hero.”
But had their romance blossomed on Peruvian soil, his girlfriend would be thrown in jail.
Lawmakers are now trying to lower the age of consent in the country — from 18 to 14 — a move that has sparked a fierce debate among different nongovernmental organizations, government offices and Peruvians themselves.
On June 22, Peru's Congress voted 70-10 to lower the age of consent to 14. The bill was written by Congressman Alejandro Rebaza, a member of the ruling Aprista party. But President Alan García was not so keen on the idea, and even though the bill breezed through the unicameral congress, the president broke with his party, urging lawmakers to hold another round of debates.
“I’m the father of four daughters and it doesn’t seem to me that at 14 they were able to give consent, which means a rational, responsible acceptance, measuring the consequences of an adult proposition,” García said after the vote.
But the prominent women's organization Manuela Ramos has repeatedly stated that lowering the age of consent is absolutely necessary to give responsible adolescents sexual freedom. It’s time to face reality, the Lima-based organization says. Its position is that the “reality” here is that Peruvians start having sexual relations early and that they are not necessarily linked to sexual violence.
Rosina Guerrero, who heads the reproductive rights department at the Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, known as Promsex, says that not approving the law would put adolescents' health at risk.
Some couples, when one member is a minor, may be afraid to go to health centers for pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted disease testing, or to obtain contraceptives, fearing that his or her partner will be arrested.
Some cheered the law’s passage — despite García’s intervention — because it would stop innocent youths from being thrown in jail for having consensual sex with a minor, treated as statutory rape under the law.
“The law will stop a 20-year-old person who makes love to a 17-year-old from becoming a criminal,” said Peruvian psychoanalyst Roberto Lerner.
Such is the case of Ivestsi Lozano. Last year, the then-19-year-old from the jungle city of Pucallpa fell in love with a 16-year-old boy, and the two fled to Tacna in southern Peru. She is currently facing 30 years in prison for statutory rape.
Nevertheless, women’s and children’s defense offices both in and outside of the government have harshly criticized the measure, saying it only invites rape and sexual abuse.