Family advocates are speaking out against a new guideline issued by the Scottish government which they say promotes – or at least condones – sex with minors as young as 13, local media reported on Sunday.
The policy states that if a youth is in a “Safe and respectful of others” relationship, police, teachers and social workers should maintain “confidentiality” – that is, don’t say anything to mom and dad. However, the age of consent in Scotland is 16, which means that no matter how safe and respectful a child’s relationship may be, it could technically be outside the law.
Family activists, the Catholic Church and others concerned about increased state interference in the personal lives of families have excoriated the new protocol, with the Family Education Trust saying the rule “effectively” lowers the age of consent to 13.
The policy is “makes it a charter for sexual relations with minors”, The Trust’s Piers Shepherd told the Mail on Sunday, stating that the “emphasis on confidentiality shows little respect for parents who are primary legal guardians” and “raises serious health and safety concerns” concerning the child. Parents, he argued, are “best placed to protect children from the harmful effects of underage sexual activity.”
The new policy clarifies that in cases where the child is clearly at risk – when there is a “power imbalance” grooming, bribery, coercion or use of alcohol and drugs – can be reported to parents. Nevertheless “If sexual activity has/has taken place in a safe and mutually respectful relationship, confidentiality should generally be maintained.”
It’s unclear how police, teachers and social workers are supposed to assess the health of an underage relationship. A government spokesman insisted that “non-statutory advice” provided in the 276-page National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021 “in no way conflict” with the 2009 law which affirmed the age of consent in Scotland at 16. Indeed, he said, the law specifies that “Society does not encourage sex among young people under the age of 16.”
As Shepard of the Family Education Trust pointed out, Scottish children under 16 cannot even get a free bus pass without a parent to complete the application. They also cannot vote before that age. Registration for military service at age 16 requires parental permission, and children wishing to change their official gender must wait until age 18.
The new child protection policy is just one of many recent measures from Edinburgh that children’s advocates fear is an unhealthy coercion into scrutinizing children’s sex lives. Last month, many parents at both ends of the political spectrum denounced the SNP-led Government’s Health and Welfare Census, which, among other contentious issues, asked 14-year-old respondents about their experiences of the anal sex. Worse still, while the survey reassured students of the confidentiality of its results, children were asked to fill in their unique Scottish Candidate Number, while parents were told that these credentials would be used to identify a kid. “in exceptional circumstances”. The government defended its survey, arguing that children who felt uncomfortable with the questions could ignore them or opt out of the census altogether.
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