The Children’s Commissioner in Scotland has called for new plans to liberalise the age of consent law to go even further.
The controversial Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill contains measures to change the law on underage sex.
Family campaigners warn that the Bill will remove important protections and expose children to physical and emotional dangers.
However, Children’s Commissioner Kathleen Marshall has now called for the Bill to be delayed so that the scant protections it does retain can be reconsidered.
In a submission of evidence on the Bill, she wrote: “We need to be certain that the threat of legal punishment and criminalisation does in fact prevent early sexual activity.
“Extending the threat – empty or otherwise – to girls, may have serious negative consequences such as preventing them from seeking help.”
But ministers say that cases where the age of consent law has been broken by underage children will continue to be dealt with by children’s hearings, rather than referred to the courts.
The Scottish Government has defended the contents of the Bill: “This is not about prosecuting children in the adult criminal courts for consensual sexual activity,” a spokesman said.
John Deighan, Parliamentary Officer for the Roman Catholic Church, said: “We understand Kathleen Marshall’s intentions, but the criminal law provides protection.”
“It’s not about making life difficult for youngsters, it’s about giving the authorities the mechanisms to intervene where there is unusual sexual behaviour, and sex between 13-year-olds is unusual.”
Mrs Marshall was criticised earlier this year for lending her backing to recommendations that sex between 13-year-olds become legal.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, commented at the time: “The law sends out a strong signal about what age is appropriate for sexual activity. Relaxing the law in this area will inevitably be interpreted as official sanction for teenage sex.
“The Children’s Commissioner seems to want to put the clock back to 1884, when the age of consent was 13.”