A RECENT case in which a judge jailed a 19 year old for having consensual sex with his girlfriend (16 and three-quarters years of age) has exposed the unjust and backward nature of laws governing young people and sexual activity.
The issue has come to the fore again as a young man, now 18, is being prosecuted for having sex with a 14 year old girl when he was 15. Defence lawyers have correctly pointed to the gender bias inherent in the fact that only male teenagers under 17 can be prosecuted for underage sex. It ties into detrimental sexist ideas about gender, insinuating that women are weak and need to be protected and that men are always the sexual aggressors, even when sex is consensual.
According to Sheila Green, a professor in childhood research, there has been a major increase in consensual sex between under 17s (the legal age of consent is 17). The law is not acting as a deterrent against teenage sex and is unjustly prosecuting a tiny proportion of the many young men that engage in consensual sex with their peers. The 18 year old currently being prosecuted should be found “not guilty”. Minister for Children, Barry Andrews’ statement that he was personally in favour of lowering the age of consent for sex to 16 should be acted upon. Most importantly, it should be specified legally that no teenager should be criminalised for engaging in consensual sex with their peers.
The Law Reform Commission has recommended that young people from the age of 14 should be able to decide upon medical treatment once they understand the nature of their condition and treatment. This should also be speedily put into law. Under the current law, if a 15 year old presents him//herself to an STI clinic, medical staff may be legally obliged to contact their parents – a potential deterrent to many teenagers seeking essential medical attention and indeed, contraception.
Young people are being treated with contempt by the government and the system. 1 in 5 under 25s are unemployed. The government is gearing up to cut the minimum wage. Low pay, the dole or emigration is not a choice or a decent life at all. With this in mind, the state is hardly in a position to present itself as a moral guardian and protector of the youth! Prosecutions of young men for consensual sex must stop. Young people should fight for their rights – for the right to vote at 16, for the right to a decent education that includes quality sex education and for the right to a decent job and future.