Guidance from the Scottish Government acknowledges that not every case of sexual activity in under-16s will have child protection concerns, but young people may still be in need of support in relation to their sexual development and relationships. A range of specific offences protect children under 13, who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity.
The maximum penalty could be life imprisonment for rape, sexual assault, sexual assault by penetration, or causing a young child to participate in sexual activity.
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 (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 introduced a series of laws to protect children under 16 from abuse.
However, the law is not intended to prosecute mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of a similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation.
Sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal) and oral sex between young people aged 13–15 are also offences, even if both partners consent.
A possible defence could be that one of the partners believed the other to be aged 16 or over.
It is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16.
These offences may not all apply in each different UK country.
This offence was introduced by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (in England and Wales), The Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, and the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.
This therefore means that there is no statutory duty under criminal law to report to the police cases of sexual activity involving children under the age of 16 under articles 16 to 19 of the Order, where the other party is aged under 18.
This exclusion does not apply to information about offences against children under 13, as set out in Articles 12 to 15 of the Order.