PROPOSALS ON the age of consent will be brought before the Cabinet shortly in the context of Bills updating the law on sexual offences, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said last night.
The issue would also be raised at Cabinet in the context of “giving effect” to recommendations made in a number of reports “which have for far too long been ignored”.
Mr Shatter referred to the issue of consent having been addressed “at some length” in reports by two Oireachtas committees.
A reduction of the current legal age of consent from 17 to 16 was recommended in 2009 by the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment.
In 2006 the Oireachtas Committee on Child Protection recommended lowering the age of consent to 16.
Mr Shatter spoke last night at a public talk organised by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland about the age of sexual consent.
It was an issue in which there was “legitimate political difference”, he said.
He described the evening’s topic as “timely”.
However, last night he would not reveal his proposals on the age of consent, which he soon intended to bring before Cabinet colleagues.
There was a “huge challenge” for the Government on the age-of-consent issue, child law expert Geoffrey Shannon told the meeting.
The Government had to balance the duty to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse and to make sure teenagers were not being criminalised for engaging in consensual, non-exploitative sexual activity.
Mr Shannon said the age of consent should be changed to 16.
In reality, a “substantial minority” of underage young people were sexually active, he said.
He also spoke of the “vulnerability for service providers” who gave contraception or counselling to sexually active children under the age of consent.
Clarity was needed on a “conflict” in legislation over medical treatment and the ability of young people to consent to sexual activity, he said.
Doctors could legally provide young people aged 16 with contraception without their guardian’s consent, Dr Caitríona Henchion of the Irish Family Planning Association explained.
There were a “lot of dilemmas” for doctors on this issue.
She raised concerns about doctors being liable if they do not report a consensual relationship between a 16- and 17-year- old under mandatory reporting guidelines.
Under guidelines, doctors had to report child abuse. At the same time a person aged 17 was considered an adult, she said.
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