Updated | Children's Commissioner wary of lowering age of consent, Medical Council thinks otherwise

Student organization Pulse, calls for clear timeline on lowering of age of consent and says that current legislation governing sexual activity is

While the Commissioner for Children has come out against proposals to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16, the Medical Council has come out in favour.

Addressing a joint meeting of the health committee, the social affairs committee and the family affairs committee, Commissioner Helen D’Amato said this was not the time to lower the age of sexual consent.

“Further research and discussion is required before taking such a decision,” D’Amato urged the MPs. She later admitted that her appeal was based on her personal opinion and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner had no official position as yet.

She argued, that at 16 years of age, teenagers would still be experimenting, trying to find themselves and discovering their sexuality. D’Amato explained that youths were today facing increased pressure from different elements – which for example has also resulted in a spike in sexting – and later face bullying.

On the other hand, D’Amato called for decriminalisation of sexual activity among minors reiterating that emphasis should always be on education: “No one will stop having sex because of laws. Education however remains the key.”

D’Amato said decriminalisation of sexual activity between minors should be retained only where there is exploitation. Sexual activity between a minor and an adult should remain a criminal offence.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner reiterated that sexual and relationship education should be compulsory in state, Church and independent schools alike. Parents’ involvement was crucial.

On matters of sexual health, D’Amato said that healthcare professionals seeing minors on sexual health issues should be allowed to do so, without the presence or consent of parents. On the other hand, if treatment is necessary, the maturity of the minors should be determined before going proceeding.

As things stand today, a pregnant teenager visiting her family doctor is legally bound to take a parent or guardian with her. However, a minor seeking treatment at the GU clinic could do so without requiring the parents’ permission or presence.

According to the President of the Medical Council, Ilona Debono, if the age of consent were to be lowered, then the age of medical consent should be lowered as well.

 Council member Doreen Cassar explained that the Medical Council was in favour of lowering the age of consent as long as the necessary structures were in place and medical support was readily available.

The parliamentary committees also raised questions over the option of banding. On her part, D’Amato expressed caution over the concept noting that, at some ages, the difference in maturity was much higher than the age difference.

The Medical Council said it agreed with age banding, but warned that a gap of five years would be a lot. The Council said it was recommending a gap not bigger than three years.

Student organization Pulse, calls for clear timeline on lowering of age of consent.

Student organization, Pulse has welcomed media reports quoting the Government Whip, Godfrey Farrugia saying that he expects a draft amendment lowering the age of sexual consent to 16 to be tabled within a year.

“Pulse believes that this is a confirmation of the Government’s commitment to the cause, and a willingness to put an end to the social injustice being inflicted by an archaic legislation which is inconsistent both with the European state of affairs, as well as the rest of the body of Maltese law,” a statement issued by the organization reads.

The organization added that in January, it had been the first student organisation to declare itself in favour of the lowering of the age of consent, without any reservations.

“This position was taken in view of an ever-changing social scenario, which has rendered the current legislation not only inconsistent, but a real problem for consenting young adults who are afraid to undergo STI and STD screenings due to a fear of legal repercussions,” the organization said.

The statement said that against the background of ever-increasing calls for sexual health awareness among teenagers, even reiterated this week by the Commissioner for Children, Pulse believes that the law as it stands currently promotes a culture of fear and silence which is detrimental to any hope of improvement.

“Indeed, Pulse agrees with certain points made by Helen D’Amato on the need for holistic education and the dissemination of information among young adults. However, we disagree that a change in legislation would somehow make teenagers more vulnerable.”

While recognising that problems such as psychological pressure do exist, Pulse added that it believes that the way to tackle such concerns does not rest in refusing to amend the law, but in combating the stigma related to sexual education and developing a strategy which takes in stock the modern realities without any prejudice.

Pulse has called for cooperation from both sides of the House to bring the matter to discussion as soon as possible and it expects a clear timeline to be given.

“This would hopefully include a public consultation process, especially with sixteen and seventeen year-olds who should be considered as key stakeholders in this regard.”

Pulse said that it looks forward to being an active contributor to this discussion through its Policy Forum, which shall be dealing with this topic in the upcoming months.