IMG_2900Proposed amendments to South Africa’s sexual consent legislation could see children who engage in consensual sex being charged for the offence of rape and be liable to life imprisonment, advocates have warned.

In 2013, the Constitutional Court held that sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, which criminalised consensual acts between children aged 12 to 16 years, are unconstitutional and directed the government to change the law by April 2015.

The government’s last-minute proposal is to completely remove the two sections from the statute, meaning that children under 16 years of age would not be able to legally consent to any type of sexual activity. This would also have the effect of removing the offence of statutory rape which currently applies to consensual sexual activity with children under 16 by persons over that age. If the proposed amendments go ahead, 16- to 17-year-old children could face charges of rape and sexual assault for consensual activity with younger children.

Currently, the minimum sentence for rape of someone younger than 16 in South Africa is life imprisonment and the court can reduce that only in substantial and compelling circumstances.