Photo: REX USA/Mode/Rex.
Age-of-consent laws are designed to protect children from abuse — but what if they also kept them from receiving necessary health services?
Professor John Ashton, president of the U.K.-based Faculty of Public Health, suggests the British government lower its age of consent from 16 to 15. He says a number of studies have demonstrated that up to a third of teenagers have sex before the age of 16, and that the current law sends a mixed message to its youth.
Ashton believes that lowering the age of consent would allow 15-year-olds easier access to contraceptives and sexual-health services. "Because we are so confused about this and we have kept the age of consent at 16, the 15-year-olds don't have clear routes to getting some support," he told The Sunday Times.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told BBC1's Andrew Marr that he is always trying to get the Department of Education "to update and modernize sex education in schools, which hasn't kept up with the Internet age." He did not, however, support Ashton's suggestion. "[Do] I think simply a blanket reduction in the age of consent is the answer to this difficult dilemma? No."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister's office echoed that sentiment: "We reject the call to lower the age of consent. The current age is in place to protect children and there are no plans to change it."
For a handful of European nations, the age of consent is 16. In France, Greece, Iceland, Denmark, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, it's 15; in Hungary, Germany, and Italy, the age of consent is 14. In the U.S., it varies between 16 and 18, by state. While the U.K.'s age of consent is typically 16, the law also stipulates that a person older than 18 who is in a "position of trust" can't have sex with someone younger than 18.
"I would not personally argue for 14," Ashton said, "But I think we should seriously be looking at 15 so that we can draw a line in the sand and really, as a society, actively discourage sexual involvement under 15. By doing that, you would be able legitimately to organize services to meet the need." (The Telegraph)