Policy and Politics: Question Time - Maggie Mellon Director of children and family services, Children First

What are your concerns about the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act?

The Bill initially said the offence of meeting a child following "certain preliminary contact" or grooming could be committed only by adults aged 18 or over. But this age limit was taken out of the Bill at stage 2, which means that a young person of 15 can be found guilty.

We think that the minimum age for offenders should be set at 18 and that where young people under this age display such inappropriate behaviour they should not be criminalised.

Do other children's groups agree?

Barnardo's has a different position on this. It is saying the amendment is fine as long as there is clear guidance on the fact that under-18s who commit such an offence should be referred to the child hearing system.

We also think the Act contradicts the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as any person under 18.

How do you explain this change in the Bill?

We understand that the Justice 1 Committee was convinced children could be found guilty of the offence of grooming after it took evidence from youth professionals.

We think it is not appropriate. We already have a children's hearing system in place. There is no need to create an extra offence that would stigmatise young people. It would make it very difficult for them to receive support such as foster care if they were labelled in such a way.

The Bill went through its final stage last week very quickly. What do you make of that?

We knew it was going to go through but we were very surprised by the lack of proper debate about the age limit and by the lack of media coverage.

There is very little we can do now it has become law, but we are going to monitor it to see how it is implemented and what impact it will have on children.

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