Sunday 15 September 2019

Age of consent: wrong rationale being applied


ON NEW Year's Eve the Minister for Children, Barry Andews TD, announced that the Government will publish new proposals to lower the age of consent to 16 years, down from the current age of 17, early in the new year.

The Irish Independent reported Mr Andrews defending the Government's proposals saying "Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews said yesterday the current laws on age of consent were ' inappropriate' and out of touch with the modern reality of sexual relations between young people. People had to acknowledge "times had moved on" and there was a different attitude to sex among young people. "

Basically Barry Andrews says that the reason we should lower the age of consent is that young people are having sex before the age of 17 anyway, so therefore we should legislate to make it legal, and not have it as a crime.

By using Mr Andrew's logic of course, we would also say that young people are smoking at the age of 12 13 and 14, and yet tobacco products mustn't be sold to anyone under the age of 18. So therefore should we change that law and make it ok for people under that age to smoke? Heroin and cocaine use is widespread in this country and yet it is illegal. But using Mr Andrews' logic, should we legalise their use too, because there is a different attitude to drugs among young people? And let's consider gun-crime. Obviously that should be legalised and allowed to go on unhindered, because 'times have moved on'.

I beg to differ with Mr Andrews, and say that if we are to lower the age of consent to 16, we should come up with a better reason for doing do than to say ' times had moved on'. Lowering the age of consent using Mr Andrews' logic, to me, would be nothing short of ludicrous. It seems to me that as Minister for Children, he is endangering children rather than protecting them. Because the fact is that changing this law means not only that two 16 year olds can now legally have sex together, it also means that if one sexual partner has just turned 16, and the other is 30, or 40, or even 50, then there is nothing stopping them from having consensual sex, regardless of the maturity of either party. In other words, someone who we consider not mature enough to vote until they are 18, or able to legally buy alcohol or tobacco.

So let's get real here. The bottom line is, we have laws against underage drinking, speeding, drink driving, even murder. And yet these things happen, because some things in life are inevitable, but that doesn't stop us from trying to prevent them. Yes, young people are having sex before they are 17 years old. That doesn't mean that they should.

Over the past two decades revelations of the failure of the State and the Catholic Church to cherish and protect children, has horrified us all. In July 2009 Barry Andrews published the 'Ryan Report Implementation Plan' saying "I am determined that we give effect to the worthy aspirations of the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic - to cherish all of the children of the nation equally". As a member of the current Government of that same Republic, Mr Andrews' tenure in office is drawing to a close shortly, so maybe it's no harm to ask, as Minister for Children, what has he done?

For a couple of years now we have been promised a Referendum on Children's Rights. A few days ago the Cabinet agreed a proposed new wording for a children's amendment to the Constitution. If the amendment is passed, this will state: " The State acknowledges that children, by reason of their physical and mental immaturity, need special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, and pledges itself to safeguard with special care the rights and interests of children." My question is this - Is it in the interest of children to lower the age of consent?

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