Since December 17 thousands have been joining facebook groups and reading newspaper articles about the law which would ban teen kissing. The law cab be found in the CRIMINAL LAW (SEXUAL OFFENCES AND RELATED MATTERS) AMENDMENT ACT, which, sadly, I believe few have read. But then again, being an 80 page document, this is no wonder:-)

For quick reference, you the debated lines can be found on page 3 (2 of the PDF) in the third last bullet, and page 24 line 35 to 26 line 12 (pages 13 and 14 of the PDF), with important definitions on page 12 (7 in the PDF) line 32-36.

It comes down to this. It is theoretically possible that someone could make a charge against children between age 12 and 16 kissing, or partaking in any other form of consensual sexual contact. However, if both parties was between these ages, charges has to be made against both (thus, a daddy mad at his 13 year old daughter’s 14 year old boyfriend cannot take him to court without taking his own daughter to court as well, if I interpret this correctly).

Most of what I’ve read in the document, and I haven’t read everything, I find to be helpful. Stricter laws on sexual offenders will help us a lot, as well as the broadening of the concept of rape, some of what I’ve read would seem to help victims of rape who in the past would have had a much more difficult time proving what happened in court (for example the fact that if a guy now has sex with a drunk girl, this can be considered rape). But this one point about consensual sexual acts (including kissing) seem to be causing some trouble, and the media is helping the idea that the whole law is simply about teens kissing along.

One of the fastest growing facebook groups in South Africa is Everyone Against the new Kissing Law, with the related Kiss in Protest!event is growing fast. The idea of this event is a type of guerrilla war, where they would gather in small groups all over the country and protest against this law. Protesting would involve:

“On 1 January at 12:00 people hang out together at the different places with their banners and Tshirts and badges and stuff… Those who want to kiss can kiss or hold hands or hug or just hang around & hug people who walk by or kiss them on the cheek… the whole idea is to show that kissing is harmless and the law is a freaken joke!”

There seem to be a typo in this quote, the event is actually supposed to start on January 5, Saturday, and then continue every other Saturday henceforth.

So, a few thoughts I’m having: You will notice that participants in the facebook groups are pulling things out of proportion, for example by mentioning 100’s of police appointed to watch over teens at movies, this do not seem to be what the law implies (you might want to read some of the discussion threads in the first-mentioned group. The discussion there seem to be of a bit higher standard than the hundreds of wall-posts). On the other hand the law does seem to be infringing on the rights of teens. I cannot see what good can come from taking a 15 year old kid to court for kissing her boyfriend. My experience is that this would ultimately end only in rebellion, and in sexual activities being taken even further underground.

But the intended guerrilla war being planned also leaves me with an extreme discomfort. First of all, although the authors of the groups seem to be fighting for the rights of kids, they are now rallying kids themselves, kids of age 12/13 even, to take part in a political protest. Furthermore, the way in which this is done is through public display of affection, not in itself problematic, I think, but when display of affection becomes a political means to an end, I wonder what we have gained. A law might again be changed, but what are we teaching these kids? Although the taboo nature of sexuality is an extreme problem, taking it into the realm of public entertainment, and even political protest, is not teaching teens anything about the beauty of sexuality. If you want to make out a public protest at Menlyn is not the place to do it.

Time will show what will be happening on Saturday, and in the coming weeks. On the one hand this is a very good example of how a tiny part of the law can be blown up by the media, while much more important things remain in the dark. In spite of my own discomfort with this part of the law, and I am very much uncomfortable with it, I wish all the energy going into this would have gone into showing children (according to the definition within this act) their rights when it comes to rape. Still huge amounts of children never report when being raped, don’t talk about it, and feel that coming out will only cause pain, without any consequences for the rapist.

I’m currently consulting with a lawyer friend, so might have some more accurate thoughts later next week. But in the meantime, what’s your thoughts on the whole thing?