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Underage Sex: How to Protect Your Children

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 6 Jul 2017 |
Underage Sex Child Parent Criminal

Whether you have a son or daughter, or both, the topic of underage sex can be an extremely difficult one in which parents and their children often have conflicting views. Some parents take the view that they would rather their child was having sex under their roof, rather than sneaking off and having sex elsewhere, but views differ enormously.

This article does not seek to persuade parents either way, but it points out the law in relation to underage sex so that parents have a sound understanding of the potential penalties involved. Although it is a notoriously difficult area to prove in terms of criminality, there can be significant sentences for offenders. ‘Sex’ isn’t merely defined as penetrative sex, but constitutes masturbating together, oral sex or penetrative sex.

Children Under 16

It is against the law for children under the age of 16 to have heterosexual or homosexual sex. In Northern Ireland, children have to be 17 years old. However, there are different degrees of criminality in sexual situations – creating a grey area in terms of the law. For example, two 15-year-old teenagers who have sex with each other just weeks before their 16th birthdays are much less likely to be prosecuted than a 25-year-old man who has sex with a 15-year-old girl.

If the two 15-year-olds who had sex were found out by the police, and the police referred it to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), this may still not result in prosecution as the CPS may take the view that it is ‘not in the public interest’.

Children Under 13

There are different rules relating to children who are under the age of 13. Whereas a child who is 13, 14 or 15 can be said to have consented to intercourse, a child of 12 or under cannot. This is a concept that is very similar to the minimum age at which a child can be criminally prosecuted, which is at 10 years old.

There are no defences to having sex with a child under the age of 13. This means that a defendant charged with this offence cannot say that he (or she) thought the child was over the age of consent, or that he or she consented to having sex. If a defendant is found guilty of ‘statutory rape’, they can be sentenced to life imprisonment. Average prison sentences are, however, between five and seven years.

Your Role As A Parent

If you allow your child to have underage sex, for example by giving them condoms, you could, in theory, be prosecuted for aiding and abetting unlawful intercourse. But again this is very difficult to prosecute successfully, as everyone knows that if children want to have sex, they’re going to do it regardless of what you say or try to do.

Doctors are, however, bound by a duty of confidentiality. If your daughter goes to her GP and asks about contraception, whether she’s 12, 13, 14 or 15, she is entitled to do so and to have this kept confidential – the rationale being that if she is capable of making decisions about her own health then she is also entitled to the duty of confidentiality. However, there are always exceptions: if a doctor suspects that a child is being abused, they are legally obliged to protect them from abuse and the duty of confidentiality could be overridden.

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[Add a Comment]
MM - Your Question:
I just found out that my 14 year old son who's two months away from his 15th birthday is sleeping with his 13 year old girlfriend. I'm not happy to say the least and I'm tackling this today but I need to know what are the legal implications are please advise

Our Response:
The police can still take action and prosecute for this, though often when it's consensual, they might not take it that far.
LawAndParents - 15-Jun-17 @ 2:42 PM
I just found out that my 14 year old son who'stwo months away from his 15th birthday is sleeping with his 13 year old girlfriend. I'm not happy to say the least and I'm tackling this today but I need to know what are the legal implications are please advise
MM - 13-Jun-17 @ 2:30 PM
What do I do if I know a 35 year old woman has been grooming my 15 year old son for sex?? And this 35 year old woman is known to sleep with everyone!?
jodey - 8-Jun-17 @ 12:03 PM
Hypertheticaly if you were 16 could you have sex with your old coach who is 31 because he no longer provides care
Ari - 2-Jun-17 @ 12:22 PM
Marin- Your Question:
My 15 yr old son had sex with a 13 yr old can he go to jail in the state of Texas

Our Response:
We don't know what the laws are in the USA. Here in the UK it would be illegal and the police would take action.
LawAndParents - 23-May-17 @ 11:32 AM
My 15 yr old son had sex with a 13 yr old can he go to jail in the state of Texas
Marin - 23-May-17 @ 6:05 AM
My son aged 16 last feb has had sex in my home with his 14 yr old girl friend when i found out he ran away telling police and social services i abuse him and he is scared of me. He has gone to the girls parents house. The girl has a history of self harm, lives with her grandma, and visits parent at weekends. They only have a one bed flat, and the kids sleep in thhe living room. The police are convin ed that my son is safe. He has missed school in the middle of exams got him drunk and allow the sex act. I am frantic for help.please help me get my son back
pixie - 22-May-14 @ 1:35 AM
My 14 year old daughter is conducting a clandestine relationship with a 30 year old who is known for his liking for underage girls. He has been meeting up with her early hours of the morning and has presented her with an engagement ring, and promises holidays in australia and porsche cars... she has recently gone on the pill, and had to be treated for an STD but still denies that she has had intercourse with this specific individual, i believe she has been coached as to the law in this area. The police are saying that there is nothing they can do... but there must be something as this is such a blatant case of grooming. We are trying all we can to cut the contact between them but she is determined as ever to "be with him". Please help!!
anon - 10-May-14 @ 12:35 PM
Could you please solve a query I have,regarding grandchildren. At what age do children of opposite sexes require a separate bedrooms?
eric - 29-Jul-13 @ 4:43 PM
my son had sex with a 12 yr old she wanted him to do it he was 15 at the time now she has told everyboby she had sex with him and said he raped her my son say it was sex she wanted and wouldnt leave him alone after and more a less has been obssed with him what will happen if the mother goes to the police
mar12345 - 4-Sep-12 @ 12:35 PM
I have just found out that my son, who was 15 in April, has a son.The child was born in January and the girl is about to turn eighteen.I have a range of mixed emotions at the moment from disappointment in him and anger and also anger at the girl who I believe should have known better, (so should he but she was 17 when she had sex with him and he would have been 13). I want to know whether he is liable to pay maintenance as he is only just about to go into his last ya at school and is intending to go to college and university.
Holly - 28-Aug-12 @ 1:04 PM
i find it abnormal that in theory, the sex age is 13 really as you will not be prosicuted as a 15 year old, therefore the age might aswell be 13.
- - 11-Jun-12 @ 12:35 PM
This is a pretty perverted stance for a society: Youths under 16 are not allowed to have sex with each other, and a 16 y/o theoretically could land in prison for life for doing it with his 12 and something y/o girlfriend (or genders vice versa for that matter), but children get prosecuted by the law and may end up (recently too!) in the youth wing of a normal jail. Just roll that around your brains and the message and stance behind this is so dire you feel like puking. No wonder Great Britain has a growing problem, and it will grow quite some more before someone has a raincheck on Victorian morals and behaviourisms...
Annem - 10-Oct-11 @ 6:02 AM
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