A CALL from Britain’s leading public health expert to allow teenagers to have sex legally at 15 sparked a furious backlash
By: Daniel Macadam
Politicians, lawyers and parents warned that lowering the age of consent from 16 would further ruin the innocence of childhood and send a “dangerous message” to paedophiles.
Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, argued changing the law would “draw a line in the sand” against sex at 14 or younger.
Prof Ashton said the new age limit would help teens to get sexual health advice on the NHS and help realign who should be exposed to sexual messages.
But parents warned that the proposal would send the wrong message in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and other paedophile attacks.
Siobhan Freegard, of parenting website Netmums, said: “There are very few prosecutions for adults caught having sex with 14 and 15-year-olds, so if the age of consent drops further, it could send a dangerous message.“At 15, many children simply aren’t ready for sex mentally or physically. We should be protecting what little time they have of their childhood not slashing it.”
Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to reject Prof Ashton’s suggestion. Downing Street said: “The current age is in place to protect children and there are no plans to change it.”
A lawyer for 72 of Savile’s victims said she had “real concerns” about lowering the age of consent. Liz Dux, who heads a specialist child abuse team at law firm Slater & Gordon, said: “Predatory adults would be given legitimacy to focus their attentions on even younger teenagers.
“There is a real risk that society would be sending out the message that sex between 14 to 15-year-olds is also acceptable.”
Official figures estimate that as many as one in three teenagers has sex before their 16th birthday. Britain also has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe with 29 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg said: “We have far too high levels of teenage pregnancy. I’m worried about the sexualisation of the culture and the information so many young people are bombarded with. But do I think a blanket reduction in the age of consent is the answer? No.”
Legalising consensual sex at 15 would bring Britain in line with France, Greece, Sweden and Poland. In Germany, Italy and Portugal, the legal age is 14. Spain allows sex as young as 13, though that is being raised to 16.
Experts claim changing Britain’s age of consent would help teenagers get more advice about sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
TV doctor Christian Jessen, Embarrassing Bodies host, said that sex being illegal under the age of 16 made it more difficult for young people to ask for help.
He explained: “Kids are having sex at that age and younger but won’t go to the GP for advice or contraception as it’s illegal.”
Prof Ashton said: “Youngsters get the most incredible messages from pornography, from social media. This needs to be corrected by having open discussions in a sensible environment.”