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Consultation 3: Participation in the Southern Region Meeting on Adolescent Sexuality and the Law

We participated in the Southern Region Meeting on Adolescent Sexuality and the Law hosted by Tulir and PLD. This was part of a series of consultations, that bring together intersectional concerns relating to adolescent sexuality, to see how these interact with each other and advance rights and protections of young persons. It seeks to engage diverse stakeholders within women's, children's, queer and sexual health rights organisations, to commit to a comprehensive framework that is able to affirm evolving capacities of adolescents, their agency and consent, as an integral part of child rights. The shift to rights protection, particularly in relation to adolescent consensual relations, assumes urgency in the context of an increasing criminalisation that renders young lives most vulnerable to policing and persecution, while denying them confidential quality services. Below, are some of the notes from a break out group on Sexuality and Comprehensive Sexuality Education we engaged in.

In the group that focused on Sexuality and Comprehensive Sexuality Education, the common approach centered on acknowledging age differences as these differences determined the core message and mode of delivery. In the younger ages, the emphasis and focus is more on a health and safety oriented perspective, which grows wider as the children grow older, to incorporate a wholesome perspective that acknowledges safety while also opening up safe spaces to talk about desire, pleasure, choices, and consequences. Younger age groups are engaged with through games and activities, while older age groups are given information, activities, and safe spaces to ask and articulate things that concern their sexuality and related needs and questions. The group largely agreed on the need to use the developmental milestones as markers to segregate age groups so as to enable comprehension of the content taught.

Age of consent plays a role under the law, but the group specifically acknowledged that factors such as upbringing without agency and the internalized bias (cognitive and non-cognitive) play a role in determining individual capacity to consent. The group unanimously decided and acknowledged that an individual is legally capable of consent only at the point where they are capable of exercising decision-making power. 

Challenges encountered by this group specifically related to structures. Right from the inception where the participants are obliged to deal with administrative staff and heads of institution in order to be able to work with students, to the question of putting the onus of reporting an incident on the child so as to activate the legal infrastructure in their favour, and eventually, to the "what next" scenario, structures play major roles. In many instances, a child may speak up and report - but what happens thereafter remains questionable. In one of the cases discussed, the group talked about how a group of parents had voluntarily withdrawn cases charging sexual abuse against an institution simply because putting that institution under would have meant that their children would have no facilities to access.