Page last updated at 08:44 GMT, Thursday, 2 October 2008 09:44 UK

Delay urged on teenage sex reform

Kathleen Marshall
Ms Marshall said she did not want the age of consent to be lowered

Scottish ministers have been urged to shelve controversial plans to reform the law governing teenage sex.

The Children's Commissioner, Kathleen Marshall, has warned that a change could end up deterring young girls from seeking medical help.

Ms Marshall stressed she did not want a lowering in the age of consent.

But she wants to delay moves which could see girls facing prosecution for consensual sex in the same way as boys, until any consequences can be studied.

At present, boys aged 13 to 15 who engage in consensual sex with girls the same age can technically face a criminal record, although prosecution is rare.

In a new Sexual Offences Bill, ministers propose to treat young teenage girls the same way.

Ms Marshall said she acknowledged the principle of equal treatment, but was concerned that the move could deter young girls from seeking vital medical help - because they fear a criminal record.

If you want to make things equal, let's make them equally better and not equally worse
Kathleen Marshall
Children's Commissioner

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, she asked parents: "Imagine your 15-year-old girl has had a relationship with her 15-year-old boyfriend, she is pregnant and standing before you, she is upset, you are upset, and now it is a criminal offence as well.

"Are you going to get a police investigation? Even if it goes to the Children's Hearing on the grounds that she has committed an offence, it is going to follow her for the rest of her life on the basis that she has committed a sexual offence - is that what people actually want?"

Ms Marshall said a welfare, rather than criminal, response was needed to consensual sex between under-16s, but said it was important any change in the law was not perceived as being a lowering in the age of consent.

She added: "I don't want a distinction between boys and girls. What I am saying is if you want to make things equal, let's make them equally better and not equally worse.

"The fact that it can be a criminal response for boys just now I think is a thing that gives cause for concern, and now they are going to extend that to girls."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This is not about prosecuting children in the adult criminal courts for consensual sexual activity. We expect that cases will continue to be referred to the Children's Panel, where the welfare of the child or children is prioritised.

"The law, and therefore practice, will continue to operate much as it does at present, except on a gender-neutral basis.

"Ministers consider that this strikes the appropriate balance between assuring the freedom of young people to make decisions and protecting them from activity which could give rise to immediate harm and/or to longer term adverse consequences."

Compromise move on under-age sex
11 Jun 08 |  Scotland


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