The news today that the Scottish government is considering making its law cracking down on consensual teenage sex even tougher is worrying on several levels.
Firstly, there is a very strong whiff of authoritarian moralising about the whole business. It seeks to bring girls aged 13-15 on to the same legal footing as teenage boys and open them up to prosecution should they indulge in consensual sex.
On one level, this is entirely fair. If boys are to be prosecuted for having under-age sex, then it does seem equitable that girls should be liable to the same penalties.
But can anyone tell me exactly what the purpose is of criminalising teenagers in this way? Teenagers have sex - always have, always will. Putting them through the criminal justice system for indulging in entirely consensual acts seems like madness to me. To brand a 14-year-old as a sex offender for shagging another 14-year-old seems somewhat daft.
Yes, there is an age of consent, so what those teens are doing is illegal. And yes, the earlier that people have sex the more likely they are to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases or teenage pregnancies.
But that doesn't mean that putting them through the criminal justice system is the appropriate way of dealing with the issue. Indeed, it seems like one of the worst ways of dealing with it. It is a health, education and moral issue - not a legal one. The more you make it a legal matter, the less likely you are to have teenagers coming forward asking for help - with obvious implications for STDs and teenage pregnancy.
And things get worse if you consider the idea that oral sex is to be included in the legislation. If oral sex, why not masturbation? Or any other activity which might in any way lead to teenagers having any kind of sexual thought whatsoever? This sounds to me like a legal minefield and the perfect recipe for a bad law. Defining the various practices which are to be considered illegal for teenagers seems nightmarish and there will also be significant difficulties in enforcing it.
This is legislation motivated more by moral unease about the thought of teenagers having sex than by a serious attempt to address an issue. This is something the Scottish government needs to rethink - unless it really wants to criminalise a whole generation of teenagers for doing nothing more than what comes naturally to them.
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