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Bethel concerned govt extending consultation period for marital rape 

Attorney Marion Bethel is concerned the government is extending the consultation period for its bill to criminalize marital rape and argued that the Davis administration must take a leadership position and do what is right.

The government drafted the bill and circulated it for consultation. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs recently held a one-day symposium at Breezes resort on the proposed law.

“We’ve been on this journey a long time now,” said Bethel, who is the The Bahamas’ representative on the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

She appeared as a guest on Guardian Radio talk show “Morning Blend” with host Dwight Strachan on Friday.

“This is not our first attempt to change the Sexual Offences Act.

“We have been at this since at least 2008, at least. So, it’s been over 14 years or so.

“So, I am really concerned that we are extending this consultation. I think the public has had a lot of time to think about it, talk about it.

“It really ought to move much more quickly than we are moving right now in order to cross the finish line on this issue. It’s just ongoing and I’m just not sure how much more consultation is needed or why it’s needed.

“We had a symposium about two weeks ago where the Christian community was well represented and aired its views. There were many NGOs there and I think we are well on our way. To hold it up is problematic.

“I think the time has come for the government to take a leadership position and to do what is morally just and right in regard to this issue of marital immunity.”

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2022, would repeal section three of the current law by removing the words “who is not a spouse” from the definition of rape.

Under the draft bill, rape is defined as “the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person without the consent of that person where he knows that person does not consent or is reckless as to whether the person consents”.

Under the current law, rape is defined as “the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse without the consent of that person …”

Attorney General Ryan Pinder said last week the government is still open to feedback on the bill.

“We don’t really want to slam the door on such an important issue,” he said.

“We want to keep it open and get some feedback. We’ve already received a few comments on the legislation from different parties to tweak it or provide certain different language that we are looking at.

“We don’t want to discourage anybody from providing the necessary input on such an important issue. So, no decision has been made as a deadline for comment at this time.”

While The Bahamas has committed to criminalizing marital rape, at least three previous administrations have backed off from addressing the issue.

In 2009, the Ingraham administration tabled a bill that would have made spousal rape a crime with a possible life sentence.

But after pushback from some members of the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party, as well as the church, the bill was withdrawn.

In 2013, then-Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson told the Human Rights Council in Geneva the Christie administration was considering criminalizing marital rape.

In 2018, the Minnis administration made a similar pledge and, likewise, never acted on the issue.

In 1993, The Bahamas ratified the UN CEDAW.

The criminalization of marital rape is one of the commitments contained in the convention.

Five years ago, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Dubravka Šimonović pointed out that The Bahamas has failed to live up to obligations under CEDAW as it has failed to criminalize all forms of marital rape.

Prime Minister Philip Davis has remained non-committal on whether the government will criminalize it.

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018.

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