Truth about the Proposed Amendments to the Criminal Code
Children rights advocates have been concerned about Belize’s archaic laws on sexual offenses for decades. They have complained that in many instances the punishment for sex offenders amounts to a slap on the wrists. For almost six years the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow, has been working with the Ministry of Human Development, the National Committee for Families and Children and other social partners to review the Criminal Code of Belize as it relates to sexual offenses against children. Such review and analysis has resulted in proposed amendments to the code in order to more clearly define types of sexual offenses and institute more strict punishment where necessary. Therefore, the proposed Criminal Code Amendment (No. 2) Bill establishes harsher penalties for perpetrators of sexual abuse and offenses against young girls and, finally, provides protection for boys against sexual predators.
In Belize, a male cannot be legally raped. Young boys have been getting raped for years and perpetrators have been free from prosecution. The only charge that can be levied against a man who rapes another man or boy is that of committing an unnatural sexual act. The maximum penalty for that offense is ten years imprisonment. As the law currently stands, a man who rapes a woman or girl (vaginal only) can be sentenced from eight years to life imprisonment. The proposed amendment states that whether a male or female is raped vaginally, orally or anally the penalty is eight years to life imprisonment. If the victim is under the age of 16 years of age, the proposed penalty is life in prison.
There was a case in Belize recently in which a couple teamed up to sexually assault a 14-year-old female. The couple allegedly gave the girl marijuana to smoke. While the girl was under the influence, the woman performed oral sex on her then the man had sexual intercourse with her. After the matter was reported to police, the couple was arrested. The man was charged with unlawful carnal knowledge while the woman was charged with indecent assault. Bail was granted to the woman and she awaits trial for an offense that has a penalty of three years in prison. The man was remanded to prison as he awaits trial for an offense that has a penalty of five to ten years in prison. If the girl was under 14 years of age the penalty for the woman perpetrator would be the same but the penalty against the man would be 12 years to life imprisonment. In the proposed amendment, both would be charged with committing unlawful sexual intercourse (replacing carnal knowledge) and the penalty if found guilty would be the same for both, five to ten years imprisonment. In the words of the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Human Development, Judith Alpuche, this means that those adult women who likes to “force ripe” little boys will face penalties for their abuse.
The bill defines sexual offenses in simple and unambiguous terms. This has caused some to voice concerns about the language. Michelle Daly, Deputy Solicitor General in charge of legislative drafting, says it is important to be clear in the language of the law for the purpose of prosecution. The English language can always be manipulated; therefore, the simpler the terms of a document the less they are open to interpretation. There are also those who suggest that there is a sinister plot behind the introduction of the bill. Certain individuals have gone as far as to say that Government is trying to “back door” the UNIBAM agenda. Prime Minister Barrow has said that he is extremely disappointed with such a conclusion and questions if there is malicious intent from those making such accusations. Nevertheless, he has commissioned the partners close to the legislation to hold consultations on the true intent of the bill. His wife was just as frustrated by the allegations being developed by certain public figures. At a press briefing on Wednesday morning, October 9th, Mrs. Barrow said, “I know that much has been said about this bill and there has been lots of speculation about what it contains and whose agenda it promotes. Let me assure you as someone who has been advocating on behalf of our children long before I was bestowed with any title, the only agenda that is being promoted by this bill is the one that I and many other advocates in this subsector try to advance every single day and that is the comprehensive protection of our children against the many forms of sexual abuse and assault.”
The main issue for early proponents of the bill is in the new definition of rape in Section 46. It basically reads that any person who penetrates another person’s mouth, anus or vagina with his penis, without that person’s consent or a reasonable belief that there was consent, commits the offense of rape and is liable upon conviction for a sentence of 8 years to life imprisonment. Proponents are saying that addressing the issue of consent in effect legitimizes consensual anal sex. Daly says that is not the case. Proving that a sexual act was committed upon an individual without their consent is always one of the key elements of proving the offense of rape was committed. Since an individual can now be raped anally it must also be proved that such a rape was committed without consent as well. However, if there is consent, then there can be no charge for rape but both individuals can be charged under Section 53 with committing an unnatural sexual offense. Daly says there is no intention to repeal Section 53 of the Criminal Code.The Guardian