Please check against delivery:
Contribution to Debate on Report of the Joint Select Committee appointed to complete the review of the Sexual Offences Act, Offences Against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Child Care and Protection Act
By the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport
The Honourable Olivia Grange, CD, MP
Tuesday, 5 November 2019
Mr Speaker, once again I stand in this House to speak for every woman, every child, every victim and survivor of gender based violence, every victim of sexual offences, every victim of domestic violence and every child in need of care and protection.
In recent times, this House has joined me in condemning violent attacks against our women and children.
Now, Mr Speaker, we can all go further than sending statements of condemnation because your Committee has presented solid proposals to give greater protection to our people and eliminate the violence.
I urge the House to affirm to accept the recommendations and show our commitment to ending the violence against women and children, and redouble our efforts to making this a safer country for all of us — especially for the most vulnerable in our society.
The most vulnerable group includes children under the age of twelve years old; people with a physical or mental disability; elderly people over 70 years old; and pregnant women.
The most vulnerable has been subjected to the most heartless, callous, horrific and brutal crimes. The entire House has been clear that we must give the greatest protection to the most vulnerable.
We have been advocating that we need stronger laws to deal with gender- based violence, particularly sexual offences, offences against children and the elderly, and offences against pregnant women.
We know that pregnant women are especially at risk. Many victims of gender based violence report that the beatings started after they became pregnant.
We have proposed amending legislation to include an aggravating sentencing factor when crimes are committed against those deemed to be most vulnerable. We have also proposed a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in those circumstances. I believe that these amendments will prove to be effective in deterring acts of violence against the most vulnerable, who have for too long been considered easy targets by those who would wish to prey on them.
Mr Speaker, we only have to look at the statistics, to see the urgency of implementing these recommendations:
- one in every four women in Jamaica has experienced physical violence by a male partner;
- one in every five women reported being sexually abused before reaching 18 years old;
- and half of abused women say they’ve never left the abusive environment.
Mr Speaker, across our country, women are finding ways to live with the abuse. Many of them cannot leave the abusive environment for a myriad of reasons. But we can help to get them out of the abusive home and provide protection for them.
We propose to increase the fine for breaching a Protection Order from Ten Thousand ($10,000.00) dollars to Five Hundred Thousand ($500,000.00) dollars. I believe this will serve as an effective deterrent.
Additionally, we propose to widen the category of persons who can apply for a Protection Order on behalf of victims to include the Minister with responsibility for Gender Affairs.
Mr Speaker, we know that some traditional beliefs militate against efforts to protect the most vulnerable. For instance, “we found in the Women’s Health Survey of 2016 that 31.4 percent of women believed that a wife is obligated to have sex with her husband whenever he wants”.
Mr Speaker, we are moving to end that. And I am in full support of the proposal to amend the law to make it quite clear that ‘no means no’ even in a marriage.
This review signals a significant legislative development as it examines the technological implications of sexual exploitation in contemporary society. It indicates that social media can be used as a tool in which sexual grooming of a child can take place. It therefore provides provision for the protection of the child in the digital space. Additionally, “Predatory Sexual Assault” and “Seduction of children under sixteen” were also added as new offences.
The Committee recommends for the establishment of a Sex Offenders Registry to house a register database in Jamaica. Failure to register will constitute an offence which may be punishable by imprisonment.
The Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Persons Act, the Child Care and Protection Act and the Domestic Violence (DV) Act will provide victims, and in particular, vulnerable victims, with greater protection from sexual offences and increased support from the State towards its citizens. I’m therefore satisfied that the review is a comprehensive one which reiterates the Government’s commitment to tackling the ‘monster’ of Gender- based violence and invite all Parliamentarians to endorse the report and become an integral part of the awareness-raising which will be part of the next steps.
I continue to make the point that the laws will only be deterrents if people believe that they will be enforced. It is one thing for us to have harsh penalties, but to punish the perpetrators we need convictions — and that requires people speaking up.
We continue to urge our people to do their part by speaking up and reporting crime. But we in this House have a role to play by strengthening the laws, creating a deterrent and giving greater protection to those who need it.
We can end the violence. But it requires all of us to end the violence.
Thank you Mr Speaker.