A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 171
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Lawmakers give initial OK to complex sex measure
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers passed on first reading Monday night a bill that discourages marriage by persons under 18. The measure also stipulates prison penalties for older individuals involved in sexual relations with minors.

Lawmaker Otto Guevara opposed the measure and said he will ask for a Sala IV ruling.

The bill also prohibits amorous relationships by adults and anyone who is their student.

This is one of those hard to enforce, feel-good measures that followed a disclosure that a 40-year-old public school teacher had contracted marriage with a 15-year-old male student.

The Ministerio de Educación Pública said that there have been 24 complaints of this since 2014.

In addition, lawmakers heard that the Hospital de Niños said that 85 percent of pregnancies of those 15 years and younger involve adult fathers.

The bill would not change any penalties dealing with rape. The measure addresses consensual sex and marriage. It also eliminates the right of parents to approve marriage for an underage child.

Specifically the bill would impose a prison term of from three to six years for sexual relations when the minor is 13 to 15 and the other partner is five or more years older.

A penalty of from two to three years is set for anyone seven or more years older who engages in sexual relations with a minor who is from 15 to 18.

The measure also expands the incest penalty, which is four to 10 years in prison, for uncles, aunts, brothers, cousins or anyone in a position of confidence or authority with respect to a minor family member.

The list covers adopted children.

The age of consent for sexual relations now is 15 if there is no monetary inducement involved. That also is the age for marriage with parental consent. The new measure eliminates the possibility that two minors would be in violation of the law if they

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engaged in sexual relations. Current law would penalize this.

The bill doesn’t really create a crime of contracting marriage with a minor. It just prohibits the Registro Civil for recording the ceremony. But absent a marriage certificate, prosecutors may seek the other penalties even if the couple has participated in a wedding ceremony.

Most prison penalties are not enforced by courts if they are three years or less.  Costa Rica already has penalties for some of the activities prohibited by the law. They are hardly ever enforced. Minors who  have babies generally do not disclose in an official way the name of the father, although they may file for child support.

Maureen Clarke Clarke, head of the Partido Liberación Nacional in the assembly introduced the bill, but it was not considered urgent until the story of the 40-year-old teacher became public.

Lawmakers who voted for the bill generally felt that it was a matter of human rights for minors. Some called the minor involved in a sexual relationship a victim. They also cited United Nations guidelines.

Specifically women under 18 should not be involved in marriage or less formal relationships, called uniones, which violate their right to be free of sexual harm and adequate development associated with the condition of gender or age, said Lawmaker Clarke.

Ms. Clarke noted that a 2011 census showed that 8.6 percent of women between 12 and 19 are married or in uniones libres. The latter is more frequent in rural areas, she said.

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