Mixed reaction as Judge decriminalises sex between children

A Pretoria High Court Judge ruled yesterday that it is no longer a criminal offence for children aged between 12 and 16 to engage in consensual sexual activities with each other.

Judge Pierre Rabie’s ruling follows an application last April by the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, supported by the Centre for Child Law, challenging certain provisions of the Sexual Offences Act. (See full judgment)

The ruling which still has to be confirmed by the Constitutional Court has met with mixed reaction.

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The Christian-oriented Jutice Alliance of South Africa (JASA), which appeared in the case as an amicus curiae, says the judgment should be rejected by the Constitutional Court “on grounds of common sense”.

‘Write to Minister today’
Africa Christian Action (ACA) and the Family Policy Institute (FPI) say the “illogical” judgment has “far reaching implications for SA society and indeed for parental authority. This ruling will be interpreted as a green light for sex between minors especially in our sex saturated society. Legalised sex between minors could also legalise child pornography”. The two organisations call on Christians to pray about the ruling and to write to the Minister of Justice, Mr Jeff Radebe “today”, urging him to appeal against the ruling.Correspondence should be sent to Ms Kgomotso Maditla kmaditla@justice.gov.za or fax: 012 315 1749.

According to a report in the Mail & Guardian, child rights advocates welcome the ruling, saying that the decriminalisation of child sexuality removes children’s fear of seeking guidance from parents, teachers, counsellors and health professionals. ‘Child rights advocates’ quoted in the report are Vivienne Mentor-Lalu, advocacy coordinator for Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect; Carina du Toit, an advocate at the Centre for Child Law; Childline South Africa’s national coordinator Joan van Niekerk;  and Paula Proudlock, child rights manager at the Children’s Institute.

“Judgment does not endorse child sex’
Carina du Toit, in an email reply (copied to Gateway News) to questions from Samantha Bezuidenhout, the mother of two daughters, says the judgment does not endorse child sex but rather rules on how to deal with a situation in which minors have already had sex. Bezuidenhout asked if the ruling promoted sex outside of marriage, since it legalised sex between children below legal marriage age. She also asked who would pay for “safe sex material” for children and whether parents would be required to provide a venue for children to have sex. Du Toit said it was still up to parents to provide moral and other guidance to their children. She did confirm that condoms and contraceptives have been available free of charge from state clinics and hospitals since 2007.

Du Toit wrote: “The question really is this: in the event that your 13 year old daughter comes to you and tells you she had sex with her 15 year old boyfriend and she needs to go to the doctor. Would you want to have it be a law that you must report your daughter to the police or would you prefer to deal with it  yourself? The effect of the judgment is that you now don’t have to report your daughter to the police.”

While Judge Rabie’s ruling was described as a “victory for the rights of children” by the applicant and Teddy Bear Clinic director Shaheda Omar, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development said it would impact on the escalating rate of sexual violence among children under the age of 16. The Department says it will decide whether to appeal after it has made a proper analysis of the judgment.

The applicant in the case argued that the Act often resulted in underage pregnant girls not wanting to have abortions at clinics, as this would lead to criminal charges against them and their partners.

They requested the court to declare certain provisions unconstitutional as they infringed on a child’s right to dignity and privacy. The application was opposed by the justice minister and the National Director of Public Prosecutions.

In his ruling, Judge Rabie declared the two sections of the Sexual Offences Act, which criminalise consensual sexual activity between children under the age of 16 years and above 12 years, invalid and deemed them to be inconsistent with the constitution.

The Act criminalises all consensual sexual acts between children of that age, even kissing. It also states that any person, be it parents, teachers or others, who are aware of consensual sexual activities between children have to report the children to the police, or face possible prosecution themselves.

In a media release, JASA says the judge’s orders give rise to ‘glaring anomalies’. The chief anomaly may be demonstrated with a simple example:

A boy of 15 forms a sexual relationship with a girl of 12 or 13, who is more than 2 years younger than himself. According to Judge Rabie, no offence would be committed. But the day the boy reaches 16, should they decide to have sex on a birthday celebration, he commits an offence; and any further sex until she reaches 16 would be criminal.

JASA believes the judge wholly overlooked this anomaly; certainly he makes no mention of it in his judgment. Other anomalies would arise under the criminal provisions of the Film and Publications Act if any attempt were made to film sexual acts between children. Again the judge fails to address his mind to those matters.

JASA says it will apply to be heard in the Constitutional Court as amicus again, and will urge the court to send the whole matter back to Parliament. It says that “apart from anything else the absurd definition in the Act which defines ‘sexual violation’ to include simple kissing, must be addressed”.

JASA says it also maintains it’s stand, supported by a great deal of expert evidence which was placed before Judge Rabie, that the best interests of children and the public interest require that South Africa, in common with the vast majority of other democratic countries, must prohibit sexual intercourse between children, even if in practice, prosecutions are only very seldom brought.

During the trial last year, Judge Rabie voiced his own concerns about the legislation. He noted that in terms of the Act, it would even be an offence if a child under 16 was kissed on the mouth when relatives came together and greeted each other by kissing.

“This shows the absurdity of some of the provisions of this act,” he said at the time.

According to the respondents, the Act is there to protect children from predatory adults and sexual predators. It is also meant to protect children from the criminal justice system, and to correct and regulate the sexual activity of children, among others.

“Very little, if anything, is added to the protection of children by criminalising consensual sexual conduct between children, and it has been proven by evidence submitted to court that children charged under the provisions will be severely harmed,” Judge Rabie said.

Although Judge Rabie’s ruling means that children can no longer be prosecuted for consensual acts, non-consensual acts remain illegal as do cases in which adults have had sex with minors.

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  1. Have mercy on our nation oh God! Forgive us for keeping silent as our moral standards deteriorates and becomes the acceptable norm pushed by the world. There is NO WAY to rationalize what is just wrong…

  2. Hugh G Wetmore

    This is the consequence of society’s dehumanisation of sex, and the animalisation of humans. It accelerated when society de-stigmatised ‘sex outside of marriage’. Marriage has been devalued, and sex with it. Parents have the power and responsibility to reverse this trend by their own behavoural example and by teaching their children with discipline. The dichotomy between what is ‘legal’ and what is ‘right’ is responsible for this judge’s ruling.

  3. we have lost our moral senses – and with it goes our children who will be more depraved if they follow the wages of sin. We, as parents have a right to withhold what is deterimental to them by instructing them what is right after all !! I am shocked that a learned mind can even contemplate such a ruling !!! I wonder whether the Judge has a daughter of 11 and whether he would think the same if she had a lover!!

  4. Rev Ian Karshagen

    The sexual act must cease to be viewed as a purely physical act. It involves the body, mind and spirit and is designed by Almighty God. It would seem that government and the judiciary has lost the gumption to do what is moral and holy. Parents, stand up, wake up and do what God expects you to do … be His mouth, ears, eyes, hands and feet. Bring up your children without compromise or excuse in the way God would have them brought up.

  5. This is horrifying and will without a doubt lead to an increase in abortions and STD’s / HIV/aids!

  6. Absolutely outrageous and appalling! Has the world and Judge Rabie gone mad?! As for the ‘child protection’ agencies and organisations – ‘get a grip’! There are other ways and means to change laws (statutes, not laws, only God has laws), to protect children/minors from police or other prosecution should they have the unfortunate experience of sex before marriage and ‘legal age’. I will most definitely write (and encourage other parents) to ‘stand up and be heard’ in this regard. It goes without saying that we also need to pray, pray, pray.