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Govt Bill’s Negative Impact on Children

Press Release 24 May 2004

Government Bill’s Negative Impact on Children’s Sexual Activity

Defending the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) on National Radio this morning in an interview with Linda Clarke, the Hon Phil Goff had to concede that the draft clause [134A] in this Government Bill which effectively decriminalises sexual intercourse between consenting children aged between 12 and 16 years of age, would have to be removed, given the high level of public outcry that has ensued over the weekend following the publication of an article dealing with it in the Sunday Star Times. He was highly critical of the article, claiming it was unbalanced and vehemently denied that it was his intention or that of his Government’s to condone sexual activity between children under 16 years of age. “It shouldn’t be condoned!”, he said.

The Society is very concerned about the negative impact of clause 134A on children’s sexual activity, family life and society, should it be enacted into law.

In a surprise move Mr Goff made a firm undertaking to Ms Clarke and the radio audience that “the draft clause goes”. The Society is amazed that this sudden apparent backtracking by the Minister has come before the Law and Order Select Committee has even finished hearing oral submissions on the Bill. The Committee’s final hearing is on Wednesday 26 May 2004 and some submitters have already raised genuine concerns over the intended changes relating to underage sex contained in clause 134A.

Society spokesperson David Lane says:

“More informed debate is required in the media on the controversial clause so that the public can consider it in the context of the other changes proposed in the Bill, most of which the Society supports wholeheartedly. Because it is committed to promoting

wholesome personal values, including strong family life and the benefits of lasting marriage as the foundation for stable communities, and
to focusing public attention on the harmful nature and consequences of sexual promiscuity; the Society calls on the Minister to justify how clause 134A could possible help alleviate the harmful impact of sexual activity on children aged 12 to 16 years and their families. New Zealand has the dubious rank of third highest in the world for teenage pregnancies. The shocking statistics on STDs and abortions cannot possibly be helped by providing new lines of defence in law for children to justify their irresponsible sexual promiscuity.”

“If clause 134A is allowed to be retained,” says Lane, “it will inevitably send the message to young people that sex is OK to experiment with like any recreational activity. It will undermine parental influence and authority over children and add to the enormous peer pressure on children to engage in sexual activity well before they are emotionally mature enough to handle it. Good law should set a structure that reflects acceptable behaviour within a free and democratic society where enjoying one’s rights are balanced by fulfilling one’s responsibilities.”

“We require young people to wait until they turn 18 years before they can vote and drink alcohol and 16 for driving, all of which demand a high level of responsible behaviour; and yet the Government has been prepared to countenance sending a strong signal via clause 134A to them that engaging in promiscuous underage sex is OK. And yet tied to sexual activity is the real possibility of unwanted pregnancies, STD transfers, abortions, emotional trauma and much more.”

The draft clause 134A allows for new lines of defence by a person of either sex, aged 12 to 16 years, who is charged for engaging in sexual intercourse or doing an indecent act on a person of either sex who is also between 12 and 16. It provides a defence “if the person charged proves that the other person concerned consented and that the person charged is [1] of or under the age of the other person; or [2] older than the other person by no more than 2 years; or took reasonable steps to find out whether the other person was over 16; and believed on reasonable grounds that the other person was of or over that age.”

Mr Goff clearly acknowledged to Linda Clarke that clause 134A has sent completely the wrong message to the public and may mean that some children 12-16 will think that they can engage in sex with impunity if the Bill becomes law. Mr Goff, his Government and the Ministry of Justice advisors he relies on, appear to many to be completely out of step with prevailing community standards and social attitudes towards sexual activity between children. They have certainly misjudged the way the public would react to the content of clause 134A. In the background note to the bill it states “…. The objectives of this review are to ensure that the law relating to sexual offences reflects more recent changes in criminal behaviour and changes in social attitudes towards sexual matters.” (Emphasis added).

Under the present section 134 of the Crimes Act 1961, it is an offence (punishable by imprisonment for up to 7 years):

- to have sexual intercourse with a girl between 12 and 16; or

- to indecently assault a girl between 12 and 16; or

- to do an indecent act on a girl between 12 and 16.

Under the present section 140A, it is an offence (punishable by imprisonment for up to 7 years)

- to indecently assault a boy between 12 and 16; or

- to do an indecent act on a boy between 12 and 16.

The new section 134 [proposed in the Bill] is extended so that it now applies to any kind of sexual connection rather than just sexual intercourse (with the maximum penalty increased from 7 years imprisonment to 10 years imprisonment); and it now applies no matter what the sex of the 2 people involved. In addition there is a change to the defences available to a person charged with an offence against sections 134 and 140A. At present, it is a defence if the person charged proves that the girl or boy concerned consented and that:

- he or she is younger than her; or

- he was under 21 years at the time, and had reasonable cause to believe (and did believe) that he or she was 16 or older. These defences are no longer to be available.

“The Society welcomes these changes,” says Lane. “It calls on the Government to fund agencies and organisations that promote abstinence among children and young persons as responsible and life-enhancing options, endorse the benefits of marriage and teach positive family values. It endorses the excellent work carried out by organisations such as “Parenting With Confidence” and “Focus on the Family” that help to provide skills to parents enabling them to help their children develop emotionally, spiritually, mentally and psychologically.”


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