Teachers risk prison under new sex law

13th June 2003 at 01:00
Family group threatens to prosecute those who discuss relationships with individual pupils

TEACHERS could be imprisoned for discussing sex with their pupils in the future unless they can prove they were trying to prevent pregnancies or health problems.

New laws will ban them from making comments to individual pupils that could be seen to encourage sex. Even saying that sex is pleasurable could lead to prosecution.

Traditionalist groups, which have criticised sex education for being too informative, have already threatened to use the Sexual Offences Bill against teachers. Roger Whelan, director of the Family Education Trust, said it would report teachers to the police if it received complaints from parents.

Children's rights groups are now lobbying for changes to the Bill, currently going through Parliament, to protect teachers, agony columnists and youth workers.

As the Bill stands, a teacher could be charged with aiding and abetting under-age sex if they discussed sex alone with an under-16-year-old who then had a sexual relationship. The teacher's name would be added to the sex offenders' list, and they could receive a jail sentence of between five and 14 years depending on whether the pupil had sex with another under-age person or an adult.

Amendments to the Bill protect adults who teach sex education to a group or discuss sex one-on-one with young people for health reasons such as preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

But organisations including the Children's Rights Alliance for England and the National Children's Bureau are calling for a further amendment to protect adults who try to safeguard a child's "emotional health".

Terri Dowty, acting joint national co-ordinator for the CRA, warned that teachers could be prosecuted simply for telling a teenager that sex was pleasurable.

"What if a pupil wants to discuss their sexual feelings, or the problems they are having in a relationship, with a teacher?" she said.

"However much a teacher may deplore the fact a child is in a sexual relationship they may still want to give advice and not just blankly tell them to call the relationship off.

"Some poor teacher is going to be arrested and end up as the test case."

The NCB said greater clarity was needed otherwise teachers would "self-censor" and fail to give children much-needed advice.

Britain's teen pregnancy rate is the highest in Europe with more than 90,000 a year, and a report from MPs this week said under-age intercourse was more common among those whose main source of information on sex was not school.

The Commons health select committee reported that teachers often focused too much on the biological side of sex and that the emotional and relationship aspects should be included in the national curriculum.

It recommended the introduction of a network of school-based clinics and said teachers should consider removing internet filters which stopped pupils gaining access to websites about sex.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed that teachers could be considered to have aided and abetted under-age sex if they told a pupil that sex was pleasurable and that child then had sex. The spokesman added: "It would be ridiculous to suggest we want to stop teachers from the important work they do providing young people with advice on sex.

"But what we don't want to do is create a loophole which would allow paedophiles to take advantage of a child's insecurity."

News, 9 Leader, 24

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