MICHAEL JACKSON ARRIVES IN NEW ZEALAND AFTER NEWS OF PROPOSED LAW CHANGE
Sex at age 12 okay under law change
SUNDAY , 23 MAY 2004
By OSKAR ALLEY
Sex between children as young as 12 will be allowed under a shock law change, horrifying teen pregnancy experts, educators and counsellors.
The Crimes Amendment (No 2) Bill is designed to repeal our outdated sex laws but critics are furious at a new section that would allow sex between teenage couples.
The new law would decriminalise consensual sex for children as young as 12, provided their partner is no more than two years older than them. It would allow a girl as young as 12, and a boy aged 12-14, to have sex with impunity. Parents and police would be powerless to act if the relationship was not condoned.
The change would give New Zealand the dubious reputation of having the most liberal stance on sex in the developed world. Most western countries set the age of consent at 16, except France where it is 15.
Critics say the new law would send the wrong message to children, with New Zealand already ranked third in the world for teenage pregnancies.
They don't accept 12-year-olds are capable of understanding the consequences of sexual experimentation.
The bill, which passed its first reading in March and is now before the law and order select committee, updates laws regarding sex crimes that were passed in 1961.
National MP and committee member Tony Ryall said the new clause should be scrapped and accused the government of being out of touch.
"In the week that the prime minister met the Pope they're trying to force through their own liberal values on a community that never asked them to do this," he said.
"The law is clear and simple, sex under 16 is wrong. This is state-sanctioned promiscuity."
But Justice Minister Phil Goff was unrepentant, saying the situation risked turning teenagers into criminals and must be changed.
"We're not condoning sex under 16 but we're saying we recognise it's a reality.
"If we were fastidious about prosecuting we'd be locking up thousands of teenagers and I don't think anybody in society would say that's a good response to the problem."
Goff said the new law toughened penalties on "predatory" actions against anyone aged under 16, removed time limits on prosecuting such offences and introduced gender equality, allowing prosecutions against women who had sex with underage males.
Goff said teenagers' consensual sexual experimentation should not be a crime. Police were currently "turning a blind eye" to such actions.
Asked if our already high teen pregnancy rate would increase, Goff said: "It's not going to add to it because it's not going to change what's already happening."
Fraser High School principal Martin Elliott said he was flabbergasted at the "absolutely bloody bizarre" idea of younger sex.
"I'm just blown away by the stupidity of it," he said.
"The hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me. The drinking age is 18 but they're saying a 12-year-old can have consensual sex and create a new life.
"Is it any wonder that our young people are so dysfunctional and damaged when they have to deal in a world where adults are making such crazy rules and laws."
The Hamilton school, dubbed the capital of New Zealand's teen pregnancies, has a dedicated teen parenting unit where 23 young mums bring their babies to class.
Elliott said Goff should be vilified for the law change.
"He deserves a lobotomy. It's a pity his mother and father didn't abstain from sex full time.
"So often it's the lawmakers who are the real danger to society, not the teenagers who have to abide by the laws. It's idiocy."
The bill's contentious younger sex age has found support among some doctors and sexual health experts.
Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care executive member Carol Shand told the committee last week the current law risked turning teenagers into criminals.
"I would agree that 12 is too young to be sexually active - but many of them are," she said.
Shand, a Wellington GP and an abortion provider, said teens with "urges who wanted to experiment" ignored the current law, which was nearly impossible to police.
Auckland sexual abuse Help foundation clinical manager and psychologist Kathryn McPhillips said lower age sex laws were a step in the wrong direction.