Turn a blind eye to underage teen sex, teachers and GPs officially told

PLANS to take a harder line on teenagers having underage sex have been scrapped, prompting concern that parents will not be told if their children are sexually active.

• Underage teenagers having sex may not be referred

Picture: Tony Marsh

The Scottish Government had instructed teachers, social workers, and GPs to automatically refer children under-16 who were sexually active to the police.

However, a consultation found people in those professions reacted against the plans, warning they would "shame and stigmatise" young people.

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They said that "referring all cases of under-age sexual activity to the police would not be compatible with their current or indeed, good practice".

Liz Smith, Scottish Tory education spokeswoman said: "I'm surprised by the guidance and parents will be concerned by this. It definitely sends out a mixed message. Teachers I know feel they have a responsibility to look after children and this puts them in a difficult situation."

The new guidance states: "With respect to the issue of automatic referral to the police, the Scottish Government has removed the suggestion that all instances of known under-age sexual activity must be reported."

Respondents warned that referring all cases to police "would shame and stigmatise young people and this could lead to genuine child protection cases being missed because of the increased workload caused by reporting and investigating all under-age sexual activity".

The consultation concluded: "The law continues to make clear that society does not encourage sexual intercourse in young people under 16, as it can be a cause of concern for their welfare. It does not follow that every case has child protection concerns and it is important to ensure that a proportionate response is made and that only appropriate cases are brought to the attention of social work and the police."

If the police are not involved it is possible parents would not find out either, although under current guidance professionals encourage the children to confide in their parents.

The consultation, "Meeting the Needs of Children and Young People And Identifying Child Protection Concerns," ran for three months and the new guidance accompanies the new Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act.

The guidance states: "Around 25-30 per cent of young people do engage in sexual activity under the age of 16, and this is often part of typical sexual development. As such, not all underage sexual activity should be seen to be a child protection issue. This seeks to strike a balance between assuring the freedom of young people to make decisions about their own lives, and protecting them from activity which could cause them significant harm."

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Many incidents would still be reported as a matter of course, such as if one or both of the children is under 13, or if one is over 16 - either scenario would be a crime. And if the teacher, social worker or GP believes the youngster is at risk of harm - whatever their age - they would make them part of a child protection case, and information would be passed to the police.

Adam Ingram, Scottish minister for children and early years, said: "This guidance will help practitioners working with children and young people to effectively support those engaged in under-age sexual activity, in particular where there might be a child protection concern."