A letter from a septuagenarian, published in yesterday’s Stabroek News, proposes lowering the age of consent from its current 16 to 15 years old. The elderly Mr Bramdeow Singh, who wrote the letter, made an excursion into the past. He is steeped in the history of his forefathers, some of whom were indentured servants from India. As is evident in his letter, he has recorded significant events such as births, deaths and weddings and could perhaps be a fount of information for persons seeking to learn about that era.
Mr Singh romanticizes early marriage and child bearing, providing ample evidence that his forebears did it. He does not expand on the deleterious effects marriage may have had on the 9, 11, 13 and 14 year olds he refers to, perhaps because the question never arose.
It is obvious that Mr Singh is set in his ways and at 77 years old, maybe he is entitled to be this way. What he is not entitled to do, however, is to imply that all adolescent girls are immoral and that marrying them off is the cure. “Mr David Granger read in SN about three years ago that five schoolgirls were pregnant at a West Coast Berbice school, aged 13-15 years. Messrs Granger, Ramotar and Ramjattan know that when many of these girls fail CXC, their parents take them out of school. They know more about sex than their mothers,” Mr Singh writes. He has obviously not considered that these pregnancies could not have happened simply by these girls’ knowledge of sex and that there had to be men involved.
What is implied too, is if they “fail CXC”, girls’ lives are over; they are only fit for the marriage market. This could not be further from the truth. There are so many young women (and men) today, who do not do well at CXC but go on to excel at academics later in life or take up a technical skill and become renowned craftsmen/women.
But Mr Singh’s worst sin comes almost at the end of his letter. He proclaims that child marriages could somehow prevent the transmission of HIV. “With HIV widespread today in Guyana, you don’t know who has the virus,” he says in his letter. “By the time some girl children meet the age of 18 for the act of consent, they have HIV.” With all the education and awareness exercises that have been carried out throughout the length and breadth of Guyana, one would assume that it would be common knowledge that men infect women with HIV and vice versa, of course. But it would seem, from the standpoint quoted in the letter, that these girl children infect themselves. Also, the fact that many young girls with the virus were infected through incest and rape, makes the ignorance of this ignominious statement that much more difficult to excuse.
Statistics are available which reveal that the transmission of HIV often takes place within the confines of marriage, which is why the message accompanying the fight to curb the spread of the virus has always included being faithful. There have been some encouraging signs in the fight to reduce the incidence of people contracting HIV, we are told by the Ministry of Health. The numbers of persons becoming infected have dropped significantly, due in no small part to the virtual bombardment of correct information about how the virus is transmitted. Anything or anyone that seeks to detract from that should immediately be challenged and corrected.
Similarly, the battle to raise the age of consent was one that was uphill at times. Many women who joined in it wished it could have been set higher – at 18 years old, but remain grateful that it is no longer 12. Any moves that even hint at a return to that dark era should be speedily shot down.
Mr Singh would be better off keeping his reminisces of the past as just that – history.