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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Gambling with lives

You have to hand it to John Ashton – he sure knows how to whip up a storm. The professor is, of course, very well practised in the art of provocation. During his years as public health director in Cumbria, he was never for a minute mistaken for a shrinking violet.

Prof John Ashton photo
Prof John Ashton

Now, as president of the Faculty of Public Health, he has an even wider audience and, while he may not always win friends and influence people with his proclamations, people at the top are bound to listen. So don’t expect him to turn suddenly shy. That’s not in his nature.

True to outspoken form, Prof Ashton has whistled up a tornado with his view that the age of consent to sex should be lowered from 16 to 15.

He reckons that, since a third of UK youngsters have experienced a sexual relationship before their 16th birthdays, we might as well change the law.

Never mind that his statistical argument tends to suggest two thirds don’t have underage sex. His view tends to lean towards making sex law – like so many other laws in this country – driven by a minority to order the majority. If John were a bit soft in the head, we might be tempted to dismiss his call for yet more chipping away at childhood as another faultlessly grasped opportunity to launch into a fatuous, self-publicising rant.

But Prof Ashton is anything but daft. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And he will have known instinctively that an instant debate on how children are sent hurtling into adulthood – willingly or otherwise – would be sparked.

And so it was. Precisely as he’d projected. But my goodness, what a risky strategy his was, particularly in a county fighting – and not easily winning – a struggle to protect youngsters from sexual predators. He made the point that since the Government has done and is doing nothing to address the sexualisation of children by commercial marketing, it might as well surrender wholesale to business interests and pile an extra pressure onto young teens.

This in a country that tops the European league for teenage pregnancies. This in the wake of one of the worst child sex abuse cases the UK has ever seen. How Jimmy Savile must be squealing in his grave: “If only I’d known they’d be going down this route, I need never have kept the secret!”

That, of course, is the point of the law of consent. It may not always be successful in persuading youngsters that launching into complex intimacies too early can be dangerous on many physical and psychological levels. But is does have its place.

Two starry-eyed teens, mistaking lust for love and throwing themselves wholeheartedly into juvenile, experimental passion, aren’t the problem. With parental guidance and intelligent sexual healthcare support they can be protected.

But the older predator – 30, 40, 60 or older still – who hears a top health expert make the case, directly to government, for sex with children to be legally acceptable? What message is he supposed to glean from this endorsement for his preferences?

After presenting prizes to the winners of the News & Star’s Bonny Babies competition at the weekend, I whispered to the doting dad of two delightful little girls: “Your daughters are simply adorable.”

“Aye,” he said. “They are. And they’ll not be having boyfriends until they’re at least 35.”

“Good luck with that,” I laughed.

But it wasn’t funny. How are parents supposed to protect their children from harm; raise them to be safe, cautious, decent and responsible, if – on the say-so of a reckless minority – all the foundations of devoted nurturing is swept away? Yes, we do need to give serious consideration to a destructive sexualisation of children. Too much of childhood has already been lost.

But to fight it with calls for legislation to lose yet more, is to gamble dangerously with the lives of the most vulnerable of our children.

Have your say

So that's round one to Anne then.
Suspect it's a knockout blow too.

Posted by Chris on 23 November 2013 at 10:18

If Prof. Ashton was so concerned why didn't he comment here?

Anyway, lowering the age of consent is a ridiculous idea and I worry about those that promote it. We need to stop giving in and changing laws/rules that are difficult to enforce, it's not the solution. How about parents take some sort of control of children to stop them having underage sex, no need for birth control/protection against STDs just moral guidance and proper parenting.

Did Prof. Ashton also suggest putting child care facilities in schools? If we lower the age of consent 15 year old *children* will be legally allowed to have kids, it won't be long after that until schools are forced to provide child care for them.

I now await a patronizing response from Dr Hothershall.

Posted by Me on 23 November 2013 at 07:23

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