What do you do when you find out that a child or youth under 18 has had consensual sex with his/her partner? This is a tricky situation that our workers sometimes find themselves in.
Underage sex is against the law, and we do not condone it. However, reporting such incidents is never easy.
Oftentimes, our staff members uncover incidents of underage sex after they have built a good rapport with the children and young persons (CYP) who take up services or programmes at our centres. When this happens, we help the CYP process their action and its legal and social consequences.
Reporting such offences could jeopardise the mutual trust in our relationship with these CYP. We might risk them concealing information from us as they do not want a police report to be made against their wishes. There is also the possibility of re-traumatising the CYP when information shared in confidence are brought to the open during the police investigation.
Yet in our legislation, specifically Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code, anyone is obliged to report reportable offences when one comes across it. Although there is a caveat that one would not be penalised if there is ‘reasonable excuse’ not to report an offence, it is hard to determine what justification could be considered as such when there is no further explanation.
The legal obligation to report thus weighs down heavily on our staff members who wish to preserve this relationship. While the caveat exists, it is vague, and we find ourselves caught in a dilemma.
We are therefore glad that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has announced that they would be reviewing Section 424 to examine if and how the scope of ‘reasonable excuse’ can be clarified, or if there can be exceptions to the duty to report.
We took the opportunity to write to MHA and Ministry of Social and Family Development to share the considerations our staff members have in handling cases of underage sex. In addition to seeking clarity on Section 424, we also expressed our hopes that there would be complementary efforts on the ground for CYP who have engaged in underage sex to be guided without the fear of criminal prosecution.
We hope our inputs can add a CYP perspective to this review.
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