After close to two months of examination and re-drafting, the Criminal Code Amendment Bill (2) was passed today before the House of Representatives. Since its first reading, the bill has attained resistance from various corners of society. However, throughout the growing concern, Government maintained that the bill’s chief purpose is to provide a robust protection framework against the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
As explained by the Minister of Human Development and Social Transformation, the Hon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez, the bill will provide equal protection for both males and females from carnal knowledge, rape, incest, abduction and kidnapping by male and female offenders and institute stiffer penalties for these offenses. In addition, persons living with diverse abilities will be guarded by the provisions contained in the bill as well. It also proposes the establishment of a sexual offenders registry, which though will not be made public just yet, will be available to the police department, social services and the education sector.
One hand to witness the passing of the bill were supporters: the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow and the CEO in the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation, Judith Alpuche. Invited were students from the Belmopan Comprehensive High School. But before the meeting got underway, the Special Envoy, along with CEO Alpuche had a short talk with the students regarding the amendments. Alpuche provided a summary of the bill.
“This Bill also opens up to all sorts of violations that can happen. The law, as it stands right now, is very narrow in what it defines as sexual abuse and sexual assault, and so, a lot of people can get through the loopholes. What this law is very clearly talks about the various types of violations that can happen. We know that it’s not only sexual intercourse and rape, but also inserts thing that can be done to children and young people by adults; those same adults that you will be protecting. So, what this law is trying to strengthen to give the people and the DPP etc. who are trying to prosecute these cases, more tools, and the judge is sitting on the bench listening to these cases more stiffer penalties that can be given to these perpetrators of these steps of abuses of these children”.
As we mentioned, there has been immense concern on the wording and principle of the Criminal Code Amendment Bill. Once clause that raised eyebrows states “Every person who penetrates another person’s mouth, anus or vagina with his penis, without that person’s consent or a reasonable belief that the other person consents, commits the offense of rape and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term that is no less than eight years but may extend imprisonment for life.” It is argued that the bill comes in conflict with Section 53, which criminalizes sodomy, and puts into question reasonable consent as well as the age of consent. This outcry led the Constitution and Affairs Foreign Committee to host consultation hearings with members of the public. Chairman of that Committee, Minister of Education, the Hon. Patrick Faber, spoke at length to the process leading up to today.
“Mr. Speaker, I also wish to expound on what the minister has said in terms of the process that went on so that this Bill can be before us today; all we remember that it was our intention indeed at the last sitting for a second and third reading. However, the amendments were so many that if we found it impossible to do in time, and so it has found itself here today, Mr. Speaker. The people of this country were given an audience; they were allowed to share as is the case with all Bills; they have that opportunity to present their case to the committee and was particularly touched by some of the witnesses who shared why it was absolutely important for us, despite the kinds of concerns on some mischief that some corners were trying to bring for us to pass this piece of legislation. I listened as CEO Alpuche (I hope she doesn’t mind me but I think she said it publicly today. So, I am hoping that it’s okay) shared of a situation of a child that was finger raped, Mr. Speaker…and that the charge of rape or any serious charge could not be brought against that child, simply because there was no legislation to cover that. I listened to, Mr. Speaker, as a little girl, I think she is in six form or at UB now, thank the committee and thank the Ministry for putting forward this piece of legislation because she was molested and she was raped and her perpetrator got off because there was not enough legislation to nail this person down. But I want to make sure as well, Mr. Speaker, that for the sake of those persons who participated. Who said to us that this is a good Bill; w thing that it is moving in the forward direction, but hear what- we have a bit of concern in this area. For instance, the churches that came to us and said, we think that we should have stronger legislation on rape and on this kind of sexual assault, but we don’t like the language (I want to assure the Honourable House, Mr. Speaker, but also the general Belizean population that the Committee tried to make sure that we kept the content of the Bill (that is what was required to develop stronger protection for our children, but we also listened, Mr. Speaker, to the concerns that were raised”.
Faber then gave quite a fiery response to critics who accused the Government of having a hidden agenda in favor for practicing homosexuals.
Hon. Patrick Faber: “There are those who accuse the government of having the desire to advance to homosexual agenda through this Bill. But Mr. Speaker, we want to make it clear that all Belizeans know that Section 53 of the Criminal Code, which makes homosexuality illegal, is being challenged by UNIBAM in the courts; all Belizeans are aware that the Governments are the defendants in this case. The Government in championing to keep the law the way it is-to keep homosexuality a, crime in this country. I believe it is safe to say (my boss will correct me if I can’t- I have been saying it in public radio) that it is the desire of this administration under his leadership to if the courts decide that it is inconstitutional to challenge as far as we can go to keep it that way. That is the position of the government. So, it behooves me how is it that those twisted corners who want to accuse this government of having that agenda, can continuously try poke the Government and say, hey you are doing this, you are trying to hide this and sneak it in. We explained that this is not the agenda, that Section 53 of the Criminal Code remains intact and that it is not going to go anywhere with this piece of legislation. There were other concerns that were raised by the church about usurping the powers of parents, those Sections of the Bill have been removed because we thought was confusing as well, and we don’t want to tamper with the right of the parents and so on. This Bill , Mr. Speaker is on making sure that things are tied up that there are stronger penalties for those who commit rape; also making sure that there is a place in the law that is clearly a signing for people with specific crimes that they commit and to make sure that they get the maximum time is vetted out, Mr. Speaker”.
But at the conclusion of the consultation process, the bill has established a rare occasion of harmony between the Government and the Opposition. Speaking collectively, Hon. Dolores Balderamos Garcia shared her party’s position and gratification regarding the new draft of the bill.