By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government can no longer ignore calls for martial rape legislation, Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell said yesterday.
In an interview with reporters at the 2019 New Year’s Day Junkanoo parade, Mr Campbell revealed a variation of the legislation will, in some form or another, receive major attention from the government. He told reporters: “Owing to the delicate, sensitive nature of the matter, there needs to be more wider consultation. But it is a matter that we cannot ignore.”
Mr Campbell added: “It is being advocated in the international community and we don’t exist in a vacuum so we have to continue to talk about it.”
He said the Ministry of Social Services continues to ensure that dialogue continues, but admitted that the country was not yet at a point where a decision could be made.
To that end, he explained: “(The Minnis administration) is not starting a conversation. We are continuing a conversation. “The conversation has been started for a while, there is a view held by the religious groups, there is a view held by the legal community and then there is the average man on the street who has his own view.
“We have to find a way to marry all of those views to come with a bill that will be acceptable to all.”
When directly asked the role international groups like United Nations’ Committee to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are playing in pushing the legislation forward, Mr Campbell said communications are ongoing.
“Well, we just reported to CEDAW in October of last year.
“We acknowledged that we are deficient in some areas, but we also acknowledged upfront that the road to the elimination of discrimination against women is a journey and not a destination and we are committed to remaining on that journey.
“We are working with (our local) non-governmental organisations to ensure that there is collaboration, to ensure that there is input by the larger community,” Mr Campbell said.
The Tribune also spoke with former Bahamas Christian Council president, Pastor William Thompson, who warned the government to tread carefully with its plans.
Addressing the topic from his Rawson Square seat, he said any potential bill needed to be tweaked to ensure it didn’t “step into any grey areas”.
“We can’t slant this to any one side or any one argument, there is a lot to be said by every side here,” Pastor Thompson said.
When asked to clarify what he meant by “grey areas”, Pastor Thompson said: “The grey area is what is a man’s right or what is a woman’s right to their partner or their spouse.
“That’s the area those who construct this bill have to look at, to make clearer for all.
“There is a right they have, in Christ, we have to observe that and hold that up ... so we that’s why I call for caution and understanding.”
Last July, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government would likely not move forward with bringing a Marital Rape Bill to the House of Assembly until 2019. At the time, he said the government’s legislative priority was laws related to the financial services sector.
Amid public debate on the issue, the Bahamas Christian Council released its proposal for a companion bill to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act that sought to establish an advisory council to set rules for Bahamian marriages, legislate counselling and effect tax incentives for married couples who live together.
The BCC at the time withheld its position on whether it would support proposed amendments, which would criminalise marital rape, until after the final bill is presented by the government.
However, legal counsel Michael Allen explained there has been a general consensus from the body on the need for a legislative approach to abuses that can occur within a marriage.
Mr Allen said the council’s concerns centre on proving the abuse, and the strength and range of penalties; he added the council has suggested the sentencing tribunal is afforded the full range of options from counselling to life imprisonment.
BBC President Bishop Delton Fernander said the council believes its proposed companion bill, named the Sanctity of Marriage Bill 2018, will strengthen “God-ordained” marriages and offer corrective incentives that could prevent the incidence of abuse.