Letters: Age of consent

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your correspondents, arguing in favour of lowering the age of consent for male homosexuals, seem to assume that the purpose of age of consent laws is to define that age at which one receives the privilege of being able to have sexual intercourse (letters, 15 April).

On the contrary, their purpose is to define the age up to which children are entitled to receive protection from seduction by adults. On this basis one could just as well argue that the laws discriminate against teenage girls because the period of protection granted to them is shorter.

Any arbitrary cut-off chosen, whether 16 or 18, has to balance opposing evils: restriction of freedom on the one hand and failure to protect on the other. It seems perfectly reasonable in setting such limits to take account of emotional and physical maturity and, therefore, there is nothing necessarily illogical or "unfair" in allowing that the period for which boys should be protected from seduction by homosexual males should be longer than that offered to protect females from being seduced by heterosexual males.

What this additional period should be would be better addressed by a rational consideration of the statistics regarding onset of puberty than emotive appeals in the name of an irrelevant "equality".

Professor STEPHEN SENN

Departments of Epidemiology

and Public Health and Statistical Science

University College London

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