Lords recognise role of teen problem pages

A law threatening to make agony aunts and uncles liable for prosecution has been amended at the last minute by the Government, which acknowledged the important role they play in sex education.

The amendments, passed in the Lords on Tuesday, followed six months of intense lobbying by the Periodical Publishers Association, the Children’s Rights Alliance, the Family Planning Association and the National Union of Teachers to campaign against the sexual offences bill.

Under the previous draft, anyone giving advice about sexual activity to under-16s could have been charged with “arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence”.

Earlier this month, amendments proposed by the PPA were rejected by Lord Falconer on the grounds that the current exemption did enough to protect those who advise children.

But editors of teen magazines were furious that their role in giving advice could be compromised. CosmoGIRL! editor Celia Duncan said that the magazine received more than 500 e-mails, texts or letters a week from readers asking for advice.

Nick Mazur, deputy chief executive of the PPA, said: “We are delighted and also relieved that the Government has accepted the many arguments that we have made to ensure that magazine agony aunts and uncles are not left open to prosecution for the valuable role they play in advising young people on issues concerning their sexuality. Teen magazines – and their problem pages – are often the only source which young people can turn to for constructive and responsible advice.”

Dr Fleur Fisher, chair of the PPA’s Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel, said: “Young people need and deserve accurate information about all aspects of sexual development and sexual health, but also the opportunity for discussion and advice about the emotional impact of sex.”

By Mary Stevens

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