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There is some overlap with the offences of rape and sexual assault by penetration.

There is also a common law offence of assault in Scotland, which has a wider application.

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 are possible defences if the sexual activity does not involve penetrative or oral sex.

These are if the older person believed the young person to be aged 16 or over and they have not previously been charged with a similar offence, or the age difference is less than two years.

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.

In England and Wales it is an offence to touch someone else with sexual intent if the other person has not consented to such touching and if the person carrying out the offence does not reasonably believe that the other person consented.

There is no defence of mistaken belief about the age of the child, as there is in cases involving 13–15 year olds.

Article 79 of The Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 amended “relevant offence” for section 5(1) of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 to exclude the duty to report information about the commission of an offence under Article 20.

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.

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