The age of consent debate 16/18?: Health body backs age limit of 16 for gay sex

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The Independent Online
THE Health Education Authority yesterday publicly supported lowering the age of consent for homosexual men to 16. It said fixing the age at 16 was 'crucial for the health of the nation'.

With the House of Commons scheduled to vote on the issue next Monday, the public backing of the government- funded HEA gives the '16' campaign an important boost.

Lindsay Neil, the HEA's Aids/HIV and sex education director, said the law currently restricted health promotion among young homosexuals. Teachers and youth workers, she said, were inhibited from passing on information 'crucial to health promotion and the prevention of HIV infection among young gay men'.

Although the consent debate has been argued on moral and human rights issues, the HEA said health had to be regarded as a crucial element of that debate. 'From research we know men under 21 have sex with one another. It is, therefore, important that they have equal access to health information,' Ms Neil said.

The Terrence Higgins Trust yesterday welcomed the HEA's public support for the '16' lobby. Nick Partridge, chief executive of the trust, said that the HEA had a 'substantial' influence on the ability of groups to target health education among gay teenagers who were at particular risk.

Mr Partridge added: 'We have known that privately the HEA have supported changing consent to 16. We are delighted that they can now be added to other groups, such as the British Medical Association, who are backing 16.'

As part of the NHS, the HEA administratively takes its orders from the Secretary of State, Virginia Bottomley. Supporting the '16' consent campaign in advance of the Commons vote, and after health ministers vetoed the HEA's latest Aids/HIV campaign, is unlikely to be without retribution.

The HEA-designed Aids/HIV campaign was banned because it was regarded as too explicit. The HEA feared the decision revealed that 'public health concerns and party politics were being confused'.

However, concern over sex education, the HEA said, was more than just 'advice about plumbing'. The authority also advises on personal and emotional problems. Under the present law, this technically limits information to heterosexual relationships.

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