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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.[3] 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.Each specifically states that it is not an offence provide information, advice and/or treatment if it is in order to protect the young person’s sexual health, physical safety or emotional wellbeing.

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.

In Northern Ireland it is an offence (sexual assault) for a person intentionally to touch sexually another person without reasonable belief that they consented.

Touching covers all physical contact, whether with a part of the body or anything else, or through clothing In Scotland the range of sexual assault offences relating to ‘sexual touching’ is similar, with the addition of sexual penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth; ejaculating semen onto someone; spitting or urinating onto them.

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.

The age of consent is the same regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides specific legal protection for children aged 12 and under who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity.

There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape, assault by penetration, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

There is no defence that the accused believed that the child was older.

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