Decriminalise consensual teen sex…..

I was listening to a discussion on Cape Talk last week by John Maytham and there was a discussion about the decriminalisation of consensual teen sex.

In short (and I am cutting and pasting from the Cape Talk site here) Laws that make consensual sex between teenagers a crime are unconstitutional, the Teddy Bear Clinic, and Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan) said earlier this week, when they launched a court application to challenge sections of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act.

The case follows the highly publicised Jules High School case, where two boys, aged 16 and 14, had sex with a 15-year-old girl.

The 16-year-old was charged with statutory rape and the others with “consensual sexual penetration” under the act.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to prosecute the teenagers, including the girl, provoked criticism. The charges have since been dropped.  Guest: Samantha Waterhouse – Organisation: Community Law Centre, UWC – Position: Parliamentary Programme Co-ordinator

I must confess that when I first heard about the decriminalization of this law, I got my panties in a bit of a knot.

The do-gooder in me jumped up, found a soap box, put on a shirt that buttons up to my neck and has sleeves that go all the way down to my wrist.

Once on said soap box I started to make speeches about how if society decriminalizes sex between consenting under 16 year olds.  The world will just be rampant with sex, and people will go around having sex younger and younger and blah-blah-blah.

There will be total anarchy and people might start listening to Jason Donovan again.  Basically all hell would break loose.

I did have this discussion in my head, as well as putting on the long sleeve shirt.

But then I was driving and listening to a portion of the show – between fetching kids, getting milk and all the stuff that is fun in the school run.

I did miss parts of the show, but caught the gist of it between traffic, and kids screaming at each other and me saying “shut up, let me listen to this damn show” in my best motherly voice.

I must confess that there were some points that made me stop and go “hmmm you could be right” and it sort of challenged my point of view.

One of them was:  if kids are going to have consensual sex and they are under 16, it should not be a legal issue, it should be a parental issue (Ah-hah moment for me there).

Another was (according to the guest Samantha Waterhouse) that kids who decide not to have sex, other than for the fact that they are under 16, has got nothing to do with the fact that there is a law telling them not to.

But all to do with influences that come from others i.e. often good influences that explain that sex has it’s place, and is part of a relationship, and that the burdens of sex are often better to deal with when you are older and can handle all the ramifications that come with it.

A caller/sms commented that retail stores should be prohibited from selling “not age appropriate clothing” (translated as dress my 12 year old like a hooker, and not a well paid hooker, more of a lady of the night who might only get one paying customer on Somerset Road) clothes to an under 16 year old.

Obviously as this came in as an sms made me realize that the parent in question had to actually have sufficient brain cells to either fill in a cell phone contract or have the sense to go to a retail store and purchase air time.

She had the sense to make that retail decision, but somehow lost her sense when she gave her daughter R250.00 and let her go out to a mall-near-you and purchase a slutty outfit or two.

But because she (the parent) was unable to control/set rules/have any parameters regarding what is appropriate dress for your child she (the parent) feels that retail stores need to put the rules in place.

That did make me wonder: “What the hell is going on here?”

When exactly did we decide to hand over the charge of our children to Pick n Pay/Woolworths/Naartjie and allow them to give, or take permission away from what our children regarding what they wear.

I was pretty sure that responsibility should lie with the parent.

Later in conversation Samantha (who was being interviewed by John Maytham) said – and I am totally paraphrasing here – that the law should be changed, because for a child/person who is under 16 to consent to sex, is not a legal issue.

It is a parental or a societal issue, and should be dealt with as such.

I did not have sex when I was 16, or under 16.

I must also confess that I did not realize there was a law governing such issues. I am not sure that would have acted as a deterrent, or a motivator – I think it would have been a non-issue.

At the time, I was dealing with too many other social issues to even consider that sex was a great idea.

I also had a huge fear that I would repeat the mistakes of “past generations” and girls around me, and be pregnant at 16 or 17 and find myself married to someone who I did not love, who could not support me, and face living in some seedy suburb with a child on each breast and another on it’s way.  All while my (imaginary) husband drank beer out of a can, and wore one of those not-quite-white vests around the house.

But the issue I am trying to raise, is though I totally disagreed with the amending/scrapping of the law, once I had heard the opinion of loosely sane people, I realized that a part of me agreed with the law.

Maybe not totally (as the idea of my children ever having sex, freaks me O U T!).

I personally would prefer kids not to be sexually active while in school – and this is assuming they remain in school.

I  feel a person under 18, with so many other social/peer pressures is just not ready for sex and the emotional consequences.

I think without a doubt their bodies are ready for sex, but emotionally and mentally, not so much.

However if my son (for instance) had sex with his girlfriend (imaginary girl friend as he assures me almost daily that he will never have a girlfriend), who let’s say was 15, 10 months, and he was 15 and 11 months – and it was consensual for both of them, I really would not like to be standing at Wynberg Magistrate’s Court having a discussion about this with an attorney and a judge as to why my child was having sex.

Sure I might handle it by drinking copious amounts of wine and puking into the toilet bowl as I screamed at Kennith that “It is all your fault!”

If that should occur – the sex and under 16 kids,  not the wine and puking, which sounds like a normal Saturday night out – then I would like to use that as a “wake up sign” to reflect on how I was raising my son, and how this situation became “alright, for him to make this decision.”

I am also not naive and think that at 16 we can control what our kids do and watch them every second of the day.

We can try to ensure that they know what they should or should not do, and then ensure that there are rules that are followed i.e. no girls sleeping over in your room for instance, and then sort of hope from there on in, that kids “do the right thing” – what ever each family’s interpretation of that is.

I am not even going to use the example of my daughter being 15, 10 months, and her boyfriend being 15 and 11 months – as Kennith would go and shoot him (literally, not figuratively) and then we would be having an entirely different conversation at Wynberg Magistrate’s Court.

Parenting needs to be a hands-on affair, we need to be aware what our kids watch, who they speak to, how they speak, and constantly keep dialogue channels open so they (hopefully) they feel they can talk to you about the little stuff and the big stuff.

My kids are small and this a rather premature thing to be worried about (in my world) – but I speak to the kids about sex so that it sounds about as thrilling as a cheese and paprika sandwich, and becomes such a ho-hum subject that it is the equivalent to “pass the margarine” in their world.

I want it to be something they know about.

Something they do not feel embarrassed about, and more importantly when Rugby Captain Brad wants to show Georgia what sex is in the backseat of the car, she can answer matter of factly that she is all up to scratch on that subject – and mom said never to have sex in the back seat of a car, any car!!

Towards the end of the conversation on Cape Talk I decided to have a pop quiz and asked if Connor knew what sex was – he said yes without even flinching.

I asked Georgia and she also said yes.

I was suspicious that she was just mimicking Connor so I asked her how babies were made, she answered (without skipping a beat) that “babies are made out of bones with skin on them” – which is true.

Based on what clearly was the rather hazy picture Georgia had formed, I asked Connor if he could tell me what sex was.

So he said: “When a girl lies on top of a boy, and the boy puts his winkie in the girl’s winkie.”

When all is said and done, that really is what it is.

I would like the government and legal fraternity to make recommendations and set out guidelines, but at the end of it all, I would like us as parents to take responsibility for what our children do.

Leave a comment


  1. Celeste,
    Been looking at some of your older posts. Wow, what a great discussion for parents to have.

    I’m doing two sessions of a parenting workshop series tomorrow and I’m going to steal this topic for a discussion.

    Should it be a legal matter or a parental matter? Yes. Both. Because some parents won’t be there. Because I’m not sure how consential a 12-year old girl can be when it comes to sex with a 15-year old boy. Because laws are supposed to support what we as a society believes.

    I think that we who grew up in the “old” days don’t realise how different the world are in which our children grow up. Its scary actually. Why we have to be so vigilant against what media is portraying as “normal” and “good”.

    • reluctantmom

       /  May 27, 2011

      It is a very “hot topic” and I am not quite sure where I stand on it – I swing between both opinions. But it does start with us as parents and what we teach our kids, and how we remain involved in their lives. But that being said I really hope when my son is 15/16 and desperately in love with a 14 year old, I am not having to deal with this issue.

  2. Marilu

     /  December 8, 2010

    Jammer vir die Afrikaans: Eks nie seker hoe ek voel oor die hele situasie nie. Ek dink iemand ouer as 16 wat seks het met ‘n under-16 moet definitief vervolg word.

    Ek weet nie of die ouer altyd verantwoordelik gehou kan word vir hul kinders se aksies nie?? My ouers was VREESLIK overprotective..ek mag nie na skool by vriende gekuier het nie, was ‘gehok’ gewees omtrent my hele hoerskool loopbaan..hul het my verbied om vriende te wees met ‘n sekere ou (toe was ek maar agteraf vriende)..en dit het nie verhoed dat ek seks gehad het op ‘n vroee ouderdom nie? Miskien as hul nie so overprotective was nie het ek dalk die vrymoedigheid gehad om met hul te praat of vrae te vra. Weet nie regtig nie.

    Al that I know…whatever my parents did wrong in parenting me..I really pray that I will do better with parenting Mignione!!!

    • reluctantmom

       /  December 8, 2010

      I do feel there is a place for being over-protective, but at the same time there needs to be a balance between exposing your child to the real world, as well as protecting your child.

      However you often see a set of siblings who have been exposed to the same parenting style, but who react differently i.e. one will follow the rules, while another will totally rebel.

      I think as parents we decide on a course of action or a route, and then as time goes on, as we mature as parents and as our children develop we adjust our “parenting model.”

      I am glad that my issues right now are brushing teeth, have you wiped your bum and it is past your bed time, and I do not have to deal with teenagers … however my time will come.

  3. TNT

     /  December 8, 2010

    No question we must take responsibility for the actions of our children and not pass the buck. But we live in a country where literally millions of children don’t have parents as they are either dead or absent. If so many chidren lack nurturance, discipline and guidance one has to consider the broader society and its responsibilities.

    Criminalising sex for under 16s doesn’t seem to be an appropriate response either, unless there are aggravated circumstances such as the 30 year old having sex with the 15 year old. In the latter event I do think a criminal charge should apply. For the rest, we need to work much much harder at educating teenagers and increasing social support.

    Perhaps the discovery that an under 16 year old has engaged in sexual activity should trigger a stae employed social worker’s investigation so that parental input is examined, but if its lacking then at least proper intervention can occur. This would also expose those cases which should receive the attention of a criminal prosecutor.

    It is very unlikely that this level of public service is financially viable but I believe its worth working towards.

  4. I think it’s more complicated than that though. While consensual sex between two 15 year olds might not be illegal, consensual sex between a 15 year old girl (boy) and her (his) boyfriend (girlfriend) of say 30+ is something that I would like to see enforced by law. Or at least punishable by someone (other than me with a shotgun).

    I agree the responsibility should be with the parent but a hormonal teenager is a tricky thing. It must be very easy for older and more savy partners to manipulate them. The law is there to protect children. Not just the children of the parent who can have a discussion with their kids and educate them, but also the kid in the township of 15 where her dad’s friend manipulates her into sex for money / sweets / friendship etc.

    • reluctantmom

       /  December 8, 2010

      I must agree with you – and in the listening I might have missed this point. I am not sure how this can be policed – and I would also be inclined to prosecute a person who is over 16 if they had sex with an under 16 year old as statutory rape, however I am not sure if this law aims to remove that altogether, or still hold it in place of one of the party is over the age in question.

      I am going to go and google a bit and see how the amendment/scraping caters for variance in age.

  5. John B

     /  December 7, 2010

    I had a raging debate (mainly with myself) about this issue and came to 3 conclusions:
    a) I agree totally that ultimately teh buck stops with parenting, we cannot become a nanny state where all responsibility is abdicated to state. Parents need to take accountability. full stop.
    b) I can not see much upside / benefit to prosecuting a slightly promescuosu 15 year old. what good could possibly come of it?
    c) but most importantly, if consentual under-age sex is criminalised and if (bif if) kids knwo it is illegal, they are sure as hell not going to speak to an appropriate adult about issues surrounding it if they find themselves in need. They will keep it secret, internalise it and probably be worse off for it in the long run. by the fact it is criminalised, you are inadvertantly encouraging engaging kids to not talk about it. does not sound right to me.


  6. Sharon

     /  December 7, 2010

    Oh my soul! I think your son’s explanation of sex is CLASSIC!!!!!
    And I’m totally with you on this issue, it is a parental issue in my mind – God help me when Ava is a 15 year old raging hormone. Its something I worry about constantly. Finding the right balance so that your child knows they can tell you anything versus putting the fear of God in them so that they don’t do anything you deem wrong… now that is the balance! 😉

  7. julz

     /  December 7, 2010

    I agree that this law needs to be scrapped. It is sad that children are having sex at such young ages, but to charge them for it is even worse.

    Parents need to take responsibility for their children. Parents spend a fortune on expensive education hoping that if they pay more their kids will be better off. I have seen that it makes little difference where your child goes to school in terms of behaviour. Behaviour is taught at home or in many cases not.

    It is not acceptable that children go missing. It is not acceptable that young children are raped. It is not acceptable that our children are obese. It is up to the parent to ensure that the child is looked after and I feel strongly that it is time that the parent is charged with neglect because if your 12 year old daughter is having sex in a toilet with two boys, she is being neglected by you.

  8. I am also of the opinion that if its consentual it should not be a legal issue!

    I have written a fair amount about parents refusing to take responsibility for their kids – its musics fault for criminals, TVs fault for violence, McDs fault our kids are overweight etc etc!

    Its nonsense. I have a CHOICE as to what I allow my listen to, watch, wear etc etc – Its MY RESPONSIBILITY!

    • reluctantmom

       /  December 7, 2010

      Totally – I think that it is easier for us as parents to decide what works for our kids, than hand the responsibility over to government/media/society and say “well the responsibility lies with you.”

      I get annoyed that there is so much violence on kids television, and the music videos are crammed with sexual explicit material and they sell hot pants for girls under 10 – however it is my choice to expose my kids to any of these elements. And when I cannot control their exposure i.e. a music video pops up while we are watching something else, I hope that my kids are exposed enough to the concept of “what is appropriate and what is not” that they can look at something in a responsible light.

  9. Agree! Sex should be something kids know about because they discussed it in detail with their parents. It should also be something they decide about before the time when it should be right for them…
    Also the responsibility of the parents!

    • reluctantmom

       /  December 7, 2010

      Without a doubt, I think the days of us blaming “the bad influence of their friends” is over – if you as a parent do not approve of the crowd they are hanging out with, then that does reflect on you and what you have taught your child about being able to make choices.

      Of course I am not saying that kids do everything because of what we do as parents, but I do think we have control over more than we give ourselves credit for.

  10. It is great to read that the idea of parental responsibility still even exists in South Africa! I have been hanging out in the UK for the last 7 years and that idea no longer exists. It is the government’s fault and responsibility, the teachers’, the shops, everyone but the parents. Actually it appears that parents are not meant to impart anything whatsoever, just to hand over the money.

    • reluctantmom

       /  December 7, 2010

      My sister in law was lamenting the same issue this weekend. She has emigrated to the UK, and home schools her daughter who is 5. She is a teacher and is in awe of how parents totally wash their hands of any responsibility.

      She was telling me this story of how this family bought a trampoline for their young child. Okay, trampolines are not the safest “toys” and should be used under adult supervision.

      So the parents then place the trampoline on a concrete surface and leave the kid (s) to play. Suprisingly kid falls off and breaks something. Hardly a shock!

      Parents then sue the retailer for selling them a trampoline.

      I think they should sue who ever makes birth control – tablets or condoms, that it did not work for them and they now have children which clearly their brain capacity is not equipped to handle.

      • Bevan Buck

         /  December 7, 2010

        LOL, there should be an entrance exam before parental rights are issued. BTW our boys are getting a trampoline for Christmas and its going to be on the lawn and includes a safety net that surrounds the whole damn thing… certificate please?
        This is not to say that I won’t break my neck whilst attempting to impress my offspring.


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