Expert raises concerns about Children First Bill
AN EXPERT on child law has raised concerns that the proposed Children First legislation could prevent underage teenagers who have engaged in consensual sexual intercourse from accessing medical advice or treatment.
Geoffrey Shannon, a Government special rapporteur on child protection, said these teenagers might be deterred because the legislation would require health professionals to report any instance of underage sexual intercourse to the authorities.
Mr Shannon appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on Thursday as part of a series of committee meetings to discuss the draft heads of Children First Bill 2012, which would bring about the introduction of a legislative framework for the mandatory reporting of child abuse.
“Under this legislation there will be a requirement where, when somebody becomes aware of any underage sexual activity, to report it to the HSE and/or guards and that may very well have the effect of deterring young people from approaching service providers about sexual health issues,” he said, following his appearance at the committee meeting.
“The aim of the law should be to prevent early sexual activity to prevent adults exploiting children. We must make sure that young people are not deterred from approaching service providers about sexual health issues,” he said.
Mr Shannon said research carried out by the NUI Galway Health Promotion Research Centre, which was undertaken as part of the 2010 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey, indicated that 27 per cent of children between the ages of 15 and 17 had engaged in sexual activity.
“The reality of underage sexual activity is that a substantial minority have sex under the current age of consent and that we needed to respond to the healthcare needs in a supportive manner,” Mr Shannon said.
“The huge challenge in this legislation is to balance protection of children from exploitation and not criminalising teenagers engaged in consensual, non-exploitative activity,” he added.