Published Date: 10 February 2009
KENNY MacAskill has indicated that more forms of sexual activity between children may be banned, following pressure from religious groups.The justice secretary has told MSPs that he will reconsider plans to criminalise only sexual intercourse between children aged 13 to 15. The move means oral sex between youngsters might now become a crime.
But last night Mr MacAskill was warned that bowing to pressure from the Christian Institute, which lobbied the justice committee on the issue, and banning oral sex would take him deeper into a moral "minefield".
Tina Woolnough, chairwoman of the group Parents in Partnership, said: "Unless (the government's] interests are protecting children from abuse, they have no business going into this area. Where do you draw the line between what is legal and what is illegal?"
Only boys who have sex are currently held to be committing an offence, while there is no specific law against consensual oral sex, although it could be regarded as an "indecent behaviour" offence.
Under the SNP's plans, oral sex will not be included in a new offence relating to children aged between 13 and 15. In its report on the Sexual Offence Bill, the justice committee said it was "concerned that this could send an inappropriate message to young people that society considers such activities to be acceptable and risk-free".
In its submission to the committee, the Christian Institute warns that the bill means "a 15-year-old boy could engage in oral sex with a 13-year-old boy or girl with impunity", and also raises concerns about the spread of sexually transmitted disease.
The Sexual Offences Bill will tomorrow be the subject of a Stage One debate by MSPs.
In his letter to Bill Aitken, convener of the justice committee, Mr MacAskill said the government was limiting the offence to sexual intercourse "as this carries the greatest risk of adverse consequences, including sexually transmitted infection and unintended pregnancy".
He added: "However, we note the committee's recommendation (to include oral sex within the new offence], and the concerns of a number of those who gave evidence on the bill. We will therefore consider this issue before bringing forward amendments at Stage 2."
Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, said he was pleased with the move. "Kids are kids – and sex is for adults," he said. "Also, (oral sex] can act as a gateway to penetrative sex." He also highlighted health issues such as transmission of infections.
Norman Wells, a spokesman for the Family Education Trust,said: "To give the impression that any form of intimate sexual activity below the age of consent is acceptable is a recipe for disaster."
Adam Stevens, of the Family Planning Association, said criminalising consenting sexual activity between young people was "not appropriate". But he added that excluding oral sex from the ban "could serve to send a message to young people that as consensual oral sex is not illegal, it is risk-free, which is not necessarily the case".