The House of Commons has voted to lower the age of consent in Northern Ireland from 17 to 16 in spite of opposition from a majority of local politicians and the public.
MPs voted by 279 to 6 in favour of the move, which comes as part of a draft sexual offences order laid by Minister of State Paul Goggins in April this year.
However, a recent opinion poll showed that 73 per cent of the public in Northern Ireland want to keep the age of consent at 17.
Also, a majority of Northern Ireland Assembly Members have signed a motion signalling their opposition to the Government’s plans.
Sex education groups and leading youth organisations in Northern Ireland say the move will send out the wrong message to young people.
Twice as many youngsters have sex before their 16th birthday in England, Scotland and Wales compared to Northern Ireland. Rates of sexually transmitted infections are more than double and teenage conceptions are significantly higher than in the Province.
However, in a statement issued by the Northern Ireland Office when the order was laid, Mr Goggins said that the move would bring the law in the Province into line with the rest of the UK.
He said: “We are certainly not encouraging 16 year olds to engage in sexual activity. What this is about is defining the age at which a criminal offence takes place even when consent is given.”
The order must also be approved by the House of Lords. A vote is expected in the coming weeks.