PM rejects call to lower age of consent to 15

Young couple holding hands Prof John Ashton called for a national debate on lowering the age of consent

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The prime minister has rejected a call from a leading expert on public health to lower the age of consent to 15.

Faculty of Public Health president Prof John Ashton said society had to accept that about a third of all boys and girls were having sex at 14 or 15.

He said the move would make it easier for 15-year-olds to get sexual health advice from the NHS.

Downing Street said the current age of 16 was in place to protect children and there were "no plans to change it".

Official figures suggest up to a third of teenagers have sex before the age of consent.

Age of consent

  • Australia: 16 or 17 (depending on territory)
  • Canada: 16
  • Germany: 14
  • Ireland: 17
  • Italy: 14
  • Romania: 18
  • Sweden: 15

Prof Ashton said lowering the age by a year could "draw a line in the sand" against sex at 14 or younger.

'Recognise the facts'

He said: "We need a debate here. It's time the adults started talking about the situation to take these enormous pressures off children and young people from becoming sexually active too early.

"Also to recognise the facts of what's going on by the age of 14 or 15 so that we can respond helpfully to them and support them on this journey into adult life."

He said lowering the age to 15 might make teachers and other people who work with teenagers "feel on a firmer footing" about telling them where to get advice on issues like contraception and disease.

Prof Ashton says society needs "open discussions in a sensible environment"

And he said in countries with a lower age of consent, young people got involved in sex at a later age and teenage pregnancy rates were lower.

"They are doing it and we need to be able to support them and protect them," he told the BBC's Breakfast.

"The negotiation of your first adult relationship in your mid-teens some time is something that will set the record for the rest of your life.

"At the moment youngsters are getting the most incredible messages from pornography, from social media. What we are seeing is more physical abuse and mental abuse in relationships."

Start Quote

Do I think simply a blanket reduction in the age of consent is the answer to this difficult dilemma? No”

End Quote Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister

He said pornography was causing young people to have "strange expectations" of their relationships and this needed to be "corrected" by open discussion in a sensible environment.

He also called for more resources to go into sexual and relationships education in schools.


Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was concerned about "high levels of teenage pregnancy" but he said lowering the age of consent was not the answer.

"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 the BBC's 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."

Luciana Berger, Labour's shadow public health minister, said the party opposed lowering the age of consent.

She said it was "not the way to tackle teenage pregnancy" and said the government had failed to support Labour amendments calling for mandatory sex and relationship education in schools.

The Faculty of Public Health, part of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, gives independent advice to the government.

'Legitimacy' warning

David Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC, said it would be prepared to engage in debate on the issue after considering Prof Ashton's arguments.

But Mr Tucker added: "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?"

Jimmy Savile A lawyer for Jimmy Savile's victims warned against the change

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

Liz Dux said: "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- to 15-year-olds is also acceptable."

A police report has said former TV presenter Savile, who died in 2011, was a "prolific, predatory sex offender".

The age of consent for sexual activity in the UK is 16.

In England and Wales, the age of sexual consent for women has been set at 16 since 1885, when campaigners fought to raise it from 13 to prevent child prostitution.

Other countries have set the legal age at anything from 12 to 20.

In 2001, the age of consent for gay men in England and Wales was reduced from 18 to 16, bringing it in line with heterosexuals for the first time. Lesbians, who until then faced no statutory age of consent, were also included in that legislation.

Scotland and Northern Ireland made 16 the age of consent for gay and straight men and women later that decade.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Or would it not be better to raise it to the age when education ends - 21 for undergraduates, and 24 for those doing doctorates - so that they can concentrate on their studies without distraction?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    The issue is not so much about the age at which a person becomes sexually active; but rather it is having sex outside of the intended use ie outside of the stability of marriage where children can be welcomed and nurtured into God-fearing adults. For people to have sex outside of marriage often leads to abortion or broken families. This all has a massive negative impact on individuals and society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Quite interesting to see what we think teenagers are able and incapable of doing/deciding at the age of 16. Many believe they are far too immature to have sex or even relationships. We don't let them vote.
    But we think they are able to make choices about their education, choose an apprenticeship or path which will majorly influence their future.

    Time to involve teenagers in this debate I think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    No. 90
    A notably daft post!
    If we prosecuted every young person who engaged in under age sex the judicial system would collapse under the strain! And what sort of penalty do you suggest would be appropriate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    if the daughter had sex with an older man the girls dad used to go out and beat the daylights out of the older, man the trouble is dads are not part of the family any more and are just used to get a council flat and leave home a sperm donor .

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    The age of consent is right at 16.
    What should be discussed is legality of sexual intercourse under the age of consent between individuals of similar age (e.g. Switzerland) - I think this is a much better solution since it prevents criminalising minors as long as they have a consesual relationship. It also isn't a free pass for relations of someone over the age of consent with a minor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    If the age of consent is lowered to 15 would that mean the age of consent for marriage would have to be looked at too? To be honest I don't think it will make one bit of difference. If a teenager under 16 wants to have sex, they will do it anyway in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    The age of consent could be lowered but for the younger ages (up to 16, or maybe even19?) sex should only be permissible with a partner of a similar age. Other protections may also be required, relating to pornography for example. Of bigger concern for me is the potential, even under current legislation for abusive, predatory sexual relationships between teenagers and 40 year olds for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    We have forgotten the important part here... without consent, at any age, it is rape. So difficult to prove nowadays. So what has "age" got to do with it?
    As most people have stated, a deliberation, a formal & meaningful discussion on the matter would be much better than a statement by a 'leading' health expert (& we all know what that means), & an adamant refusal to comply by a Prime Minister.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    So we cannot allow sex for the under 16's but at the same time allow girls to go to the school nurse for the morning after pill, bit of inconsistency there DC, either the girl was raped and should have our full support or she was consenting and thus also making the decision. We are frequently told girls have a more mature mindset than boys so which in the same age group is leading the other astray

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    It is sad to see comments from the ignorant people who support underage sex; they are the people who are a major problem with society today

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    There are these days 14 year olds who stare at you with 40 year old eyes. Yes by all means give a proper sex education to both sexes. Dispel the myths which have ruined lives (You can't get pregnant the first time, or if you do it standing up). Some are mature under 16, others not until their 20's (if then). If an arbitrary date is set for all, then why not leave it as it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    The idea of this age 16 law is to protect children, still of school age, not further education, from predatory individuals.
    We risk too much by lowering the age limit and open the door to much more child exploitation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    It's a difficult area - some 16 years old are still very naïve, some are most definitely adult. The biggest problem is that there is no differentiation between 2 teenagers being sexually active, and exploitative relationships between teenagers and older adults. I don't think you can lower the age of consent until this can be sorted, without a loss of protection for more immature teens

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.


    "mrs countryboy was 20 when we met and I was 42 a big age gap I know that does not make me a predator."

    No-one in their right mind would accuse you of being one! The issue here seems to me to be about childhood. As far as I'm concerned, at 15 you're still a child. Once we lose grip of this, I think we're on a slippery slope toward child exploitation with even lower age of consent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    The question is do we really believe that kids under the age of 16 can make an informed decision and fully understand the implications and risks they are taking by indulging in sex I know as a teenager (as most do) I thought I knew it all, which you find in time is utter nonsense.
    Most kids are easily corrupted and should be protected until they have a mature balanced reasoning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    If anything we need to start treating children as children - at least before puberty. Don't forget that children reach puberty at different ages, and they will have sex when THEY feel they are ready, whether we like it or not.

    Got nothing to do with Cameron and the other nanny goats, but up to us as parents (not teachers or MPs etc.) to look after our children's best interests.


  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    These criminals, child abusers by other children, the prof reckons on a third of the youth population should be prosecuted. Laws that are not enforced have no justification. You can raise the age to 64 it makes no difference when not prosecuted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    "PM Rejects calls to lower age of consent to 15"

    Ahh well, never mind. You'll be on your way soon and the next man can do it

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Amazing that the prime minister can openly discuss this subject, what a shame we have never had one on immigration, or do they feel it is too late!


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