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Guidance from the Scottish Government acknowledges that not every case of sexual activity in under-16s will have child protection concerns, but young people may still be in need of support in relation to their sexual development and relationships. A range of specific offences protect children under 13, who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity.
The maximum penalty could be life imprisonment for rape, sexual assault, sexual assault by penetration, or causing a young child to participate in sexual activity.
This therefore means that there is no statutory duty under criminal law to report to the police cases of sexual activity involving children under the age of 16 under articles 16 to 19 of the Order, where the other party is aged under 18.
This exclusion does not apply to information about offences against children under 13, as set out in Articles 12 to 15 of the Order.
Sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal) and oral sex between young people aged 13–15 are also offences, even if both partners consent.
A possible defence could be that one of the partners believed the other to be aged 16 or over.
Separate guidance has been issued by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to inform practitioners and professionals about the implications of the law on child protection procedures. Attention is also drawn to the Regional Area Child Protection Policy and Procedures.
Health professionals in the UK may provide contraceptive advice and treatment to young people under 16 if, in their clinical judgement, they believe it is in the young person’s best medical interests and the young person is able to give what is considered to be informed consent.[2, 4, 5, 6] The various sexual offences laws in force in the UK do not affect the ability of professionals to provide confidential sexual health advice, information or treatment.
RELATED FACTSHEET Sex and the Law, Northern Ireland (PDF) The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women.
Specific laws protect children under 13, who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity.
There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape and assault by penetration.
The age of consent is the same regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender.
It is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16.
The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women, so that any sexual activity between an adult and someone under 16 is a criminal offence.