No change in age of consentJustice
The age of consent will remain at sixteen, with penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment for sexual connection with a young person under that age, says Justice Minister Phil Goff.
"Far from introducing a more liberal regime, the Government, in the Crime Amendment No 2 Bill, has in fact criminalised sexual connection by women with under-age boys, to make that law gender neutral," Mr Goff said.
"It has also removed current limitations on prosecutions for having sex with under-age persons, which must currently be taken within 12 months.
"The strong intention of the Bill and other legislation in front of Parliament is to protect young people against predatory sexual behaviour.
"That is why, for example, penalties are increased tenfold for trading in child pornography and paedophiles are facing extended supervision of up to 10 years after their sentences are completed.
"There is, however, a real problem of how best to respond to the situation of consensual sex between teenagers of similar ages in what is often described as teenage sexual experimentation. At present, that is legal if the boy is younger than the girl. The new law will be gender neutral.
"There are two options which the select committee are considering. The Bill provides for a defence if the age difference between the two young people is two years or less. The alternative option is to provide no defence but to allow police discretion.
"In exercising their discretion, police currently bring few prosecutions against teenagers in this situation. The Ministry of Justice has pointed to problems in this resulting in some inconsistency in approach. However if that option has wider public support and the select committee recommends it, then the status quo will prevail.
"The challenge facing the select committee and the Government is to have legislation reflecting the fact that underage sex in any circumstance is not condoned, but that we do not end up with tough criminal sanctions aimed at predatory behaviour applying where it is not appropriate," Mr Goff said.