By happenstance, I was browsing the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, CAP 8:01, when my attention was drawn to Section 71 under Title 7. In the Preliminary it reads: “Carnally knowing female idiot.” The clause is further detailed as follows: “Anyone who unlawfully and carnally knows any female idiot or imbecile female… at the time of the commission of the offence, that the female was an idiot or imbecile, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for five years.”
Between the preliminary and detailed description of the clause, “female idiot” and “imbecile” total five references. Legal jargon is traditionally verbose, sometimes out of judicial and syntactic necessity, and while that
may very well be the intention here, there is little doubt that the wording of this law is debasing and derogatory.
For one, the words “idiot” and “imbecile” when defined according to the I.Q scale fall into different categories. Those with an I.Q of 0-25 are considered “idiots” while those with an I.Q of 26-50 are labelled “imbeciles”. The least intellectually challenged of the lot will be “Morons” who have an I.Q. of 51-70. Those with a sense of compassion will no doubt be incensed at even these scientific gradations, since almost every conscientious individual feels empathy for the people herein mentioned. For the law then to treat two distinct terms synonymously, and at the same time pejoratively, underlines a cancerous form of intellectual ignorance, snobbery and stereotyping.
Can you imagine if, in reporting the sexual molestation of the 14 year old girl in Enmore, Kaieteur News had used “a 14 year old female idiot/imbecile” instead of their politically correct choice: “… a 14 year old mentally challenged girl”? That newspaper could certainly have adopted the legal terminology enshrined in the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, but it is not difficult to imagine the outcry which would have followed.
I recall Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, in observing “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” last year, speaking of the need to promote awareness of disability issues as well as secure the fundamental rights for individuals with all forms of disabilities. His remarks highlighted the “investment in resources at the various levels” by his government, but I believe he failed, possibly out of unawareness, to mention that the mentally impaired are demeaned by their very constitution.
The president- appointed National Commission on Disability and the Ministry of Legal Affairs can surely revise the wording of this law. Whether it is “Mentally handicapped”, “Mentally impaired” or “Intellectual disability”, our lawmakers have several politically- correct options.
If Thomas Jefferson is a model legislator, as he should be, then we will agree “…that the minority possess their equal rights, which the equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”
(Name and address supplied)