Health expert calls for age of consent to be lowered to 15

Leading public health advisor to Government says 15-year-olds should be allowed to get support and contraception

A leading public health expert has called on the Government to consider lowering the age of consent to 15.

Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said the current legal limit prevented sexually active younger teenagers from getting support with issues of disease and contraception.

With official figures indicating that as many as a third of all 14- and 15-year-olds are having sex in Britain, Prof Ashton told the Sunday Times a nationwide debate was needed to discuss the benefits of lowering the present age of consent of 16.

This morning Downing Street quickly rejected the suggestion from one of the Government’s most senior health advisors. A spokesperson for David Cameron said the law was in place to protect children and that the Prime Minister had “no plans to change it”.

Prof Ashton said keeping the age of consent at 16, first set in 1885, had left the public “confused”. He argued that it would make more sense to lower the limit by one year and “draw a line in the sand” against sex at 14 or younger.

It would also make it easier for 15-year-olds who are already having sex to obtain contraception or sexual health advice from the NHS.

“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,” Prof Ashton said.

“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.”

A lawyer representing 72 of the victims of Jimmy Savile warned against any move to lower the age of consent.

Liz Dux, who heads a specialist child abuse team at Slater & Gordon, said: “I have real concerns about the prospect of the age of consent being lowered.

“Predatory adults would be given legitimacy to focus their attentions on even younger teenagers and there is a real risk that society would be sending out the message that sex between 14-15-year-olds is also acceptable.

“My work with victims of abuse results in me talking to many who felt pressurised into having sex at a young age but have gone on to live a lifetime of regret.”

David Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC, said he would be happy to have a debate on the issue but said he would want to see the evidence for Prof Ashton's claims.

“Has there really been a significant change in the amount of young people having sex over the past 20 or 30 years? If it has changed, then is reducing the age of consent the most sensible way to deal with it?” he told the Sunday Times.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that Prof Ashton had been right to identify the problem but said that he did not believe that lowering the age of consent was the solution.

“We have far too high levels of teenage pregnancy. I'm worried, like everybody's worried, about the sexualisation of the culture and the information that so many young people are bombarded with at the moment. That's why I do want see action,” he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

“I'm constantly urging (Education Secretary) Michael Gove and the Department for Education to update and modernise sex education in schools which hasn't 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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003