The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (Rcni) says it opposes a change in the age of consent and is "dismayed" the matter was discussed by Cabinet today.
Lowering the age of consent from 17 to 16 years would “compound State failures” to protect older children, the network said.
"The age of consent is there to protect vulnerable children from coercion, pressure and abuse. The age of consent is not designed or used to punish teenage respectful experimentation," executive director Fiona Neary said in a statement.
She said sexual experimentation between children is “commonly far from benign” and “can be abusive”.
A recent Rcni report found more than a third (37 per cent) of perpetrators of sexual violence against children were also children, she said. “These child perpetrators were near or of the same age as their victims,” she added.
It may “simply undermine the State and the justice system’s capacity to respond to these crimes”, she said.
“The DPP’s office has worked very successfully, as there are relationships between teenagers which are not abusive and are not before the courts,” she told RTÉ Radio.
“The State has turned a blind eye to the specific needs of the teenage child. To contemplate lowering the age of consent with so little done or said to address their vulnerability would be to compound this neglect,” she said.
The Cabinet today discussed the option of lowering the age of consent to sexual activity from 17 to 16 years of age following an Oireachtas committee recommendation on the matter.
Ms Neary urged the Cabinet to consider its “statutory obligations” in “supporting, protecting and empowering” the older child.
Meanwhile Young Fine Gael has come out in support of lowering the age of consent.
It called for an criminal liability to be absolved where the ages of consenting individuals was less than two years apart.
“A lower age of consent will bring our laws into line with other EU countries and provide the legal recognition that people are having sex at a younger age,” the organisation’s president Dale McDermott said in a statement.
A “two year exemption” would recognise the existence of cases among consenting younger people, he said. This would “ensure we focus on family support services and better sex education as a remedy to support young people” he added.
Fine Gael opposed the move in 2006, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed reservations about the issue at that time. The question over age of consent is part of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2013.