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Friday 21st October 2016

U-turn on underage sex

10th April 2006

The Government has abandoned plans to force health professionals to report to the police all children aged under 16 who seek advice on contraception, pregnancy or abortion.

The Children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes, said there would be more discretion in the case of 13 to 15-year-olds, though there should be a presumption that professionals offering sexual health advice to children aged 12 and under should refer the case to a panel including police officers and social workers.

The key elements of the guidance are that health professionals should never take decisions regarding the welfare of a child involved in underage sex without consulting a child protection expert within their own organisation, and that clear records of all decisions must be kept.

The draft proposals for mandatory reporting of underage sex to the police came after the Bichard inquiry into the Soham murders which recommended that the Government draw up guidance for different statutory agencies on how to share information about crimes against children.  In the case of two consenting 15-year-olds having sex, where there were no child protection concerns, professionals working with children would still be required to discuss the situation with a child protection specialist within their own organisation; but there would be no mandatory requirement to report to outside agencies.

Ms Hughes said that the Government are introducing a presumption that, for under-13s, there will be a referral to child protection service. "It is common sense that a child of 12 or under having sex will almost certainly be at risk of significant harm" she said.

The new guidance makes it clear that health professionals should assess whether sexually active 13 to 15-year-olds are at risk of harm, according to specific criteria. These include the child’s age, level of maturity and family background. For the 13 to 15-year-olds it recognises that there may be some situations in which there is consensual sex between two 15-year-olds. However Ms Hughes told the Association of Directors of Social Services in Leicester that where there is reasonable cause to suspect that harm to a child (aged 13-15) has occurred or might occur, then there is a clear presumption of reporting.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Al Aynsley-Green, said that he would be monitoring the working of the guidance to ensure that young people still felt confident in accessing contraceptive and other sexual health services.

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