Downing Street and Nick Clegg have both rejected a call by a public health official to consider lowering the age of consent to 15 so that teenagers can have better access to sexual health advice and protections.
The Guardian reports Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, had called to lower the age of consent to make it easier for 15-year-olds to seek out contraception and sexual health advice from the NHS.
According to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, the average age of first sexual experience in the UK is 14. This has lead to other campaigners, such as Peter Tatchell, to call to lower the age of consent as far as 14-years-old.
Mr Ashton told the Sunday Times: “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. My own view is there is an argument for reducing it to 15 but you cannot do it without the public supporting the idea and we need to get a sense of public opinion about this.
“I would not personally argue for 14 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 organise services to meet the need.”
However, Downing Street has rejected the proposal. A spokesman for the prime minister said the current age of 16-years-old was designed to protect children.
In a BBC interview he said: “We reject the call to lower the age of consent. Current age is in place to protect children and there are no plans to change it.”
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg also agreed. In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show he spoke about Mr Ashton’s call, saying: “I am not in favour of that. The age of consent has been a British law for generations in order to protect children.”
He added: “This health expert is right in saying there is a problem – we have far too high levels of teenage pregnancy. I am worried, like everybody is worried, about the sexualisation, the culture and the information so many young people are bombarded with.
“That is why I am constantly urging Michael Gove to update and modernise sex education in schools, which has not kept up with the internet age.
“But do I think simply a blanket reduction in the age of consent is the answer to this difficult dilemma? No. So yes there is a problem. Yes we need to a debate. Yes we need to update sex education. But this is not the answer.”
Peter Tatchell earlier this year wrote on his call to lower the age of consent to 14, saying: “I don’t advocate that young people have sex before the age of 16. It is best if they wait. But if they do have sex before they are 16 they should not be criminalised. Criminalisation is not protection.
“However, the law is scant protection. Abusers ignore the law. We currently have an age of consent of 16, yet it is routinely flouted by sex abusers. It doesn’t protect youth. Retaining the existing age of consent would do little to stop those who abuse young people.”