Campaigners have lambasted the Scottish National Party over government guidance they say has “effectively” lowered the legal age of sexual consent to 13 years old.
New SNP-run government guidance for police, teachers, and social workers states that parents should not be told if their children are believed to be engaging in sexual activity before the age of 16, with their “confidentially” being respected if the young person is in a “safe and mutually respectful” relationship.
The guidance, which follows the SNP’s December release of a census asking schoolchildren about their sex lives, including whether they had had “sexual experiences” including “oral sex” or “vaginal or anal sex,” garnered criticism from family campaigners and the Catholic church. While the guidance still officially recognises the age of consent as 16, it also states that teenagers will not be considered “at risk of significant harm.”
“If sexual activity is taking place/has taken place within a safe and mutually respectful relationship, then confidentiality should generally be maintained as there is a high threshold for when the duty of confidentiality should be outweighed. The facts and circumstances of each case must be carefully considered before deciding if the public interest favours the disclosure of confidential information. Information may lawfully be shared where there is an overriding interest which outweighs the duty of confidentiality. Overriding confidentiality must be justified and proportionate, taking into account the nature and probability of risk to the young person and/or others. The child's wishes and feelings must be heard and taken into account. The reasons for decisions made (for instance, in relation to information sharing) must be recorded.”
Responding to the SNP’s move, Piers Shepherd of the Family Education Trust said that the rules now make the legal age of consent “effectively” 13.
“It is effectively a charter for underage sex. The whole emphasis on confidentiality shows scant respect for parents who are principal legal guardians. If a young person under 16 is involved in sexual activity, it raises serious health and safety concerns. Parents are best placed to shield children from the harmful effects of underage sexual activity.”