A United Nations committee has called on Cook Islands to repeal criminal provisions that discriminate against same-sex relations.
The request is part of a draft report to Cook Islands from the UN Rights of the Child human rights committee, which held hearings in Samoa this month.
The committee says it is concerned about the prevalence of discriminatory legislation, in particular the Crimes Act 1969 that criminalises consensual sexual activity between two consenting males, including adolescents.
The committee also recommends the government clearly set the age for sexual consent and ensure that adolescents who engage in sexual acts with each other are not criminalised.
Te Tiare Association, which represents LGBT+ people, has welcomed the recommendation.
“The laws that criminalise our rainbow community have to go,” said spokesperson Karla Eggelton.
“Our country’s constitution enshrines equal rights for everyone and we’ve made a number of international commitments to equality and inclusion, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We have to follow through with law reform. Our lawmakers must step in to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”
Research carried out by academic Dr Debi Futter-Puati, who is now director of the University of South Pacific Cook Islands, found just 70 per cent of our youth identify as heterosexual.
Others either identify as LGBT or don’t want to say, “likely because of fear that they’ll be found out”, says Eggelton.
“Suicide and mental health issues run high in this age group. How can they have the best chance in life if they are labelled criminals from the outset?
“Fitting in at school is hard enough for the average child let alone having the social stigma placed on them for something they are still figuring out for themselves. They need love, help, support and access to professional services.”
Eggelton said they urge people to formally voice their support for law reform by making a submission to the Crimes Bill select committee.
Committee chairman Tingika Elikana advised the UN committee in Samoa that they were still taking submissions.
Eggelton said: “We encourage people to have their say on this important human rights issue.”