Public objection to the Criminal Code Amendment Bill (2) has compelled the Government to engage in consultation with interested parties. The first open discussion was held On Tuuesday in front of the Constitution and Foreign Affairs Standing Committee at the National Assembly, where persons made oral and written submissions to the committee, while outside, protestors gathered to demonstrate their concerns with the bill. The Bill in question was tabled for its first reading at the last sitting of the House of Representatives and quickly caught the unease of some citizens. The bill seeks to amend section 46 of the Criminal Code and one clause that raised eyebrows, which has been dubbed the Gender Neutral Bill 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. Immediately following the meeting, which saw ten presenters, we spoke with one of the presenters, Scott Stirm of Belize Action.
Pastor Scott Stirm- Founder and President of Belize Action:
“First off, I want to say all of these leaders, if you can pound around to see, these are pastors and leaders from all over the nation that have come together, Ministry leaders as well, expressing their concern, people that read the amendment, that are deeply concerned with some of the wording and some of the terminology in there and so, I believe that maybe some of the overwhelming statements today to the Standing Committee, they weren’t expecting this many people…Substantive content of Section 46 is the Section with the Criminal Code that deals with rape and this changing this, is expanding the definition of rape. Rape is something that has been technically defined that takes place to a female. This is removing that side of it which should include protection for males as well as including other aspects of sexual offences that, I prefer to not to go into details, but normal sexual, homosexual or perverted types of sexual offences that it lists by name. But the difficulty that has sounded alarm bells for us is been along a number of points. One of these is, having to do with the issue of consent. This amendment is attributing the issue of consent to something that Section 53 gave no attribute of consent towards when it comes to unnatural crimes or unnatural acts and sodomy. So, it says that without consent it’s illegal, and o, by implication, it means that with consent that makes that, legal”.
Host of Rise and Shine, Louis Wade Jr., who was also one of the presenters, explained to reporters that the church’s objection didn’t just fall from out of the sky, but rather, it came after much consultation with legal professionals. He further shared on why he believes Government ought to slow to down on the progression of this bill.
Mr. Louis Wade- Director of PLUS Television Station
“The churches have professionals, legal minds; today, the Roman Catholic Church stated that they got six legal opinions on this bill from national and international lawyers. We know that the Evangelical Association Belize Action for us at Rise and Shine Belize, when we are speaking, we are speaking on the advice meant from legal minds. It’s very important to understand that. And then I also want to say that this law…this bill needs to slow down and have the people of Belize as a part of the consultation process because it redefines rape, but it also redefines the issue of consent and where it comes to something now, is going to be called having reasonable belief. We believe…there is also a provision in this law that allows parental permission to be circumvented by adults as it pertains to children under the age of sixteen. These are serious matters and the kind of controversies and scandals and the cloudy atmosphere under which the nation of Belize is operating right now, if we’re really serious about protecting our children, let us do it in an atmosphere of calm and an atmosphere of dialogue and an atmosphere where intelligent people in both sides of the issue, can dialogue and come to a logical conclusion…if we really want to protect our children”.
Patrick Menzies, President of BelizeCan and founder of the Jasmine Alert system stated that while he believes that the bill makes constructive provisions, there are some sections that must be modified.
Mr. Patrick Menzies- President of Belize Can and Head of Jazmin Alert
“Section 47g.3, what it does, it says, who did not break the law. And it basically says, you did not break the law if you give…if you’re protecting a person under sixteen from SIDs, (from sexually transmitted disease) So, if you give my kids, condoms, it’s okay. That’s not okay with me! That’s my kid, so, you can’t do that is what is doing: taking away the parent’s rights. b) Protecting of the physical safety of the other person under sixteen. Okay, I told my kid she come out pregnant, I’ll turn…I’ll wipe her head off. Okay, so she comes or goes to the neighbor and says, my dad’s gonna kill me, I three months without getting my period, so she go gets an abortion. That’s legal! I can’t sue the neighbor because, guess what? They are protecting the kid’s safety and that’s wrong. That is the Government’s responsibility to protect our values. And my value…my cultural value, basically says, I don’t believe in those things. So, how can somebody else can legally be authorized to do them? Those are our main concerns. As the head of Jazmin Alert, this bill has some great, great things in it. I am fascinated with it, but there’s a serious problem”.
Soon thereafter, we spoke with Chairman of the Committee the Hon. Patrick Faber.
Hon. Patrick Faber- Minister of Education and Chairman of Standing Committee
“Well, that’s a tough question to answer in a short time. It is a piece of legislation that generally aim to improve the protection of our children, primarily with sexual offences, rape and so on. But I can assure people, although the concerns raised today would point to the fact that the Government might be trying to pull a fast one, especially as it relates to Section 53 of this Criminal Code, which has to do with unnatural crimes, of course, which as many have pointed out is before the couch. I will remind people that the Government…this very same Government is the defendant in that case, and, in fact, we are serious about defending that particular piece of legislation. In fact, I believe, today, in our Cabinet discussions we have said that if the Government loses this appeal, that appeal, sorry, in that case, we will appeal and appeal and appeal as long as we can appeal. And that should send a strong signal to you, but if it does not, let me tell you that we really don’t have another agenda. I know that people are very skeptical of things, but there is really no other agenda other than to make sure, and I think those who sat with us today will conclude that that point was made very strongly, that we have no other agenda other than to make sure that the provisions exist in the law to protect our children from abuse, be they, male or be they female”.
Meanwhile, Bishop Dorick Wright, Head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belize agreed that there is a common ground and that is – the protection of children.
Bishop Dorick Wright- Head of Roman Catholic Diocese
“I just sat and I listened, and from it, I observed that we have one thing in common, the good of our children. We are hoping that we can protect. This what this is ending to be like, it’s protection for all our children. And sometimes, I think, children are taken advantage of…sexually molested, and that seems to be so common these days. They need more and more protection”.
Reporter: “Sir, do you think that the amendment…the wording of the amendment needs to be fixed or do you find it quite clear on what it says?
Bishop Dorick Wright: “Well, there aresome words that have to be fixed, but as you say, this is just the beginning, it’s not the end. So, we can’t…I don’t think we can just zero in on anything at this time. But we can start looking around then, but there are some things that are kind of uncomfortable for some people; we have to change them”.
And while the media was not allowed to enter the meeting, President of the Association of Evangelical Churches made mention of the response from the Committee.
Pr. Eugene Crawford- President of the Association of Evangelical Churches of Belize
“Well, the response, really that we got was first of all that it’s a separate piece of legislation which is written to protect our children. We all agreed that we need to go at a length to protect our children and our adults in our country, and that has been a longstanding issue we dealt with even with started the awareness way back before even the matter had hit the court regarding Section 53. So, we have that assurance that everyone was on the same wavelength with that. And the Committee and the Chair have promised that there will be more dialogue on the matter and all agreed that the matter has been moving very fast and that we need to slow it down somehow and have more meaningful dialogues because it involves the entire nation, as a country”.
The Committee’s Chairman emphasized that yesterday’s consultation is not the last of its kind and that in fact, the Government will be hosting another forum that will be open to the wider public. At the public hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, presentations will be made by Solicitor General’s Office as well as the CEO from the Ministry of Human Development – whose portfolio the bill is under. Persons wishing to make a contribution can submit those concerns in writing to the Clerk of the National Assembly.