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Child sex 'should not always be reported'

Sarah Womack, The Telegraph, UK, 16/03/2007

Children as young as 13 who are sexually active should not automatically be reported to the police, the Children's Commissioner for England said yesterday.

Prof Sir Albert Aynsley-Green said nurses, teachers and youth workers must follow Government guidelines published last April which state that while there is a "presumption" that information is passed on to social workers or police, decisions should be made using individual discretion on a case by case basis.

[Sexual health] 

He spoke after Brook, the sexual health charity, said ministers must intervene to ensure that the current guidance, which was causing confusion and leading to automatic reporting, did not deter children from seeking advice.

The comments angered family campaigners who say the authority of parents is being undermined.

[Confidentiality and privacy] 

The Family Education Trust said on one hand the Government trumpeted the importance of parents and held them responsible for their children's behaviour, and on the other supported the confidential provision of contraception and abortions.

Norman Wells, the trust's director, added: "Brook and the Children's Commissioner are effectively saying that children have a right to a private sex life and are treating with contempt the protection given by the age of consent."

"In previous generations, natural inhibitions combined with fear of pregnancy, legal proceedings and being found out by parents have combined to offer a powerful disincentive to underage sex."

"Confidentiality policies drive a wedge between parents and their children and expose young people to risk of abuse and disease."

But Simon Blake, the chief executive of Brook, said:

 "Confidentiality is top of the list of young people's concerns when they need advice about sexual health issues such as contraception or pregnancy. If they don't believe a service is confidential, then they simply won't go there."

"That leaves them at far greater risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and may also lead to abusive or coercive relationships remaining hidden."

"The Government's guidance was intended to preserve professionals' discretion to judge, on a case by case basis, whether a child or young person is at risk of serious harm and whether or not it is necessary to pass on information to social services or police."

A survey by Brook found that one in four Local Safeguarding Children Boards - the statutory bodies which replaced child protection committees - complied with the Government guidance.

Sir Albert said: "There is still much more work to be done to ensure LSCBs comply fully with the guidance."

Earlier this week, a Tory MP, Angela Watkinson, pushed for a change in the law, saying under-16s should have parental guidance before deciding to have an abortion.

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