The Christian Institute

News Release

Stormont says keep age of consent at 17

The Northern Ireland Assembly has today (Monday, 4 February) unanimously voted in favour of a report strongly recommending that the age of consent is kept at 17 and not lowered to 16 as the Secretary of State has proposed. Although the vote is not determinative (because criminal law is not a devolved matter), it sends out a strong signal that the Northern Ireland Office proposal to lower the age of consent will not be a popular move.

The Christian Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer, Callum Webster, said today: “The age of consent law is a good child protection measure. In cases of abuse it spares children the horror of cross-examination over whether they consented to sexual activity. Reducing the age of consent to 16 will remove this protection from 26,000 youngsters in Northern Ireland. Belfast Rape Crisis Centre has strongly criticised the plans for these reasons.

“The current law also sends out a clear message that sex under the age of 17 is not a good idea. Surveys show that the majority of girls who have under-age sex later regret it. In our increasingly over-sexualised society, we should be giving our youngsters some moral guidance and empowering them to say no to premature sexual activity.

“The Northern Ireland Office says lowering the age of consent will help 16-year-olds to seek contraception and sexual health advice. This approach has been a utter disaster in the rest of the UK. Twice as many youngsters have sex before their 16th birthday in England, Wales and Scotland compared to Northern Ireland. Rates of sexually transmitted infections are more than double and teenage conceptions are significantly higher. This is hardly something we should desire here.

“There are several laws which are different in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. A pubic consultation on the plans resulted in thousands of responses which were opposed to the move. Both Roman Catholic and Protestant communities are against lowering the age of consent.”