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International News

Canada: Sex Law That Raises Age of Consent to 16 Not Protecting Youth Most at Risk -- Study

November 22, 2010

In a bid to prevent the sexual exploitation of adolescents by adults, Canada in 2008 raised the minimum age for legal consent to sexual relations from 14 to 16. However, 14- and 15-year-olds are much more likely to have sex with other youths within three years of their own ages -- well inside the law's five-year "close-in-age" exception. Children under 13, on the other hand, are at greatest risk of exploitation by adults, a new study shows.


The analysis was based on the 2008 British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey, which polled more than 29,000 students in grades seven through 12.

"The change in law isn't going to change anything for them," as Canadians under 13 years old were already protected, said Elizabeth Saewyc, a professor of nursing and adolescent medicine at the University of British Columbia. Just 2 percent to 3 percent of teens ages 14-15 at sexual debut had partners who were 20 years old or more. Among those who had sex at age 12 and younger, 39 percent had partners age 20 or older.

"We're not seeing huge numbers of 14-year-olds, compared to 16-year-olds, having sex with adults," Saewyc said. "The kids who are much more vulnerable to having sex with adults are 13, 12, and even younger. So that's clearly an issue."

The proportion of youth surveyed who reported having had sex before age 14 declined, from about 37 percent in 1992 to 19 percent in 2008, Saewyc said. Condom use rose among the sexually active.

The government could have protected youth more by raising awareness about the existing laws and better enforcing them, said Saewyc.

The study by Saewyc and colleagues was accepted for publication in volume 19 of the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality (2010;19).

Back to other news for November 2010

Adapted from:
Canadian Press
11.16.2010; Camille Bains

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV in Canada

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