SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Legislators are hoping to lower the age of sexual consent in Puerto Rico from 16 to 14, arguing that complaints from protective parents are overwhelming courts and teens should not be prosecuted for their sexual curiosity.
"Many children have faced criminal proceedings for experimenting with their sexuality," said local Rep. Charlie Hernandez, a sponsor of the legislation. "That to me seems outrageous."
The proposal would reverse a 2004 amendment making it illegal to have consensual sex with anyone under 16, the minimum age for marriage with parental blessing.
That decision was part of broader changes to Puerto Rico's penal code, making it difficult to gauge what consent age most lawmakers support.
The proposal to lower the consent age faces stiff opposition from religious groups, who say it would lead to more pregnancies and an increase in single mothers struggling to raise a child.
"This is nothing but a plan to initiate minors into a sexual life," said Juan M. Gaud, a member of the Alliance of Christian Lawyers. "We are raising 14-year-olds to be mothers."
But the 14-year-old limit is backed by the head of the government Women's Advocate Office, Ivonne Feliciano, who says education is key to helping teens.
Rep. Liza Fernandez, co-president of the committee expected to endorse the change for consideration by the House and Senate, says parents too often file complaints that overwhelm courts when both teens consented to sex.
She said parents are out of touch who say girls ages 15 and 16 have no idea what they are doing when they agree to have sex.
"I don't know what world they're living in," she said. "They know what they are doing, even if it's irresponsible."
Puerto Rico's teen pregnancy rate has dropped every year from 2003 to 2007, the newest figures available, but the rate still remains slightly higher than that of the U.S., according to the island's health department.
Sexual consent ages across the U.S. range from 16 to 18, while they are slightly lower throughout Latin America.
Puerto Rico's age of consent was 14 from 1978 until 2004.