Page last updated at 08:23 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 09:23 UK

Compromise move on under-age sex

A more lenient approach to consensual sex between children is likely

Ministers in Scotland are preparing a compromise over plans to decriminalise certain cases of under-age sex.

The Scottish Law Commission said consenting sex between two children under 16 should not be prosecuted.

Ministers will reject calls to end prosecutions but they are in favour of a more lenient approach.

BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor believes ministers want most cases to be sent to a Children's Panel hearing on welfare grounds.

The reformed law would reserve the right to prosecute where there were indications of predatory behaviour.

Brian Taylor said: "Sex involving an adult and a young person under 16 would remain strictly illegal - and would be prosecuted.

"The issue here is consensual sex involving two youngsters under 16.

"At present, only the boy is liable for prosecution.

"In practice, there are few court cases but even referral to the panel on offence grounds can result in a black mark on the youngster's record which may ruin future job chances."

He said ending prosecution was a step too far for ministers but they were prepared to compromise in certain cases.

Maggie Mellon of the charity Children 1st told BBC Radio Scotland the issue was whether to "criminalise" children for having consenting sex.

She said: "There might be some circumstances where you would want to mark that this was a gross breach by one child of another child's rights and safety.

"But mostly, under-age sex is between consenting young people, who have probably not been properly guided and have not been given proper adult supervision and support, who are in need of care and welfare rather than prosecution."

Gordon McDonald, of the Christian social policy group Care, told BBC Radio Scotland children should be getting stronger guidance about sex from their parents.

"Often parents abdicate their responsibility and leave it up to schools, health professionals and others," he said.

"Perhaps as a society we need to help parents more to have the tools to have these discussions with their children.

"Although a lot of it comes down to the values in the family. It is not just what you tell people explicitly, it is about the values and the stability of the family background."

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