The age of consent was officially lowered to 16 on Wednesday in a move that was welcomed by the National Youth Council.

Parliament on Wednesday gave the third reading to the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill, which includes an amendment lowering the age of consent. It now only needs the President's signature to become law.

The council said Malta was bringing the age of consent to the same level as most other EU countries.

It urged the government to launch an educational campaign among young people, including education on self-testing and contraceptives, and facilitate access to medical services.

It also called for improved sexual health clinics, including the setting up of such a clinic in Gozo. 

A long process

The process to lower the age of consent has been a long one.

Then Nationalist MP Franco Debono called for a lowering of the age of consent in a speech in parliament in 2010.

The youth council made recommendations for lowering the age of consent in 2015.

In May 2015, a joint meeting of Parliament’s standing committees on health, social affairs and family affairs heard arguments that lowering the age of consent to sexual activities from 18 to 16 would not necessarily bring about more teenage pregnancies. If anything, it would give youths more legal protection while reducing criminalisation.

In October 2016, Times of Malta had reported how an inter-ministerial committee had decided to recommend lowering the age of consent from 18 to 16.

Malta had been in a situation where, in terms of the law, a 16-year-old could get married, but could then end up in prison if he/she had sex with somebody under 18.

In February this year, following a legal change published in the Government Gazette, youths aged 16 and 17 could request or refuse medical treatment without their parents' consent.

16-year-olds were also given the right to vote in general elections earlier this year.

READ: France considers reducing age of sexual consent to 13

PN split on final vote on Domestic Violence Bill

Eight Nationalist MPs and two PD MPs voted with the government for the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill.

The split had nothing to do with sexual consent. Many PN MPs voted against in protest at the fact that the bill removed references to the unborn child that may suffer violence. Opposition leader said this provision would be restored in the first 100 days of a Nationalist Government.

The PN parliamentary group was given a free vote by the party.

Those who voted in favour of the Bill were Simon Busuttil, Mario De Marco, Chris Said, Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia, Claudette Buttiġieġ, Karol Aquilina and Karl Gouder.

The law, among other things, tightens sanctions against perpetrators of domestic violence, rape, revenge porn and other such crimes, and transposes the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention into local law. 

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