The discharge without conviction of five Opotiki men who had sex with underage girls has not prompted the Justice Minister to reconsider the age of consent in New Zealand.

The issue is being debated after the judge presiding over the case at Opotiki District Court yesterday said the law - which makes it illegal to have sex with someone aged under 16 - may need to be revisited.

Judge Louis Bidois made his decision after the court heard all of the sex was consensual and, in some cases, between boyfriend and girlfriend. The men were aged 17 and 18 and the girls 14 and 15 at the time.

Some people believe the four young men spared convictions for sleeping with underage girls should never have been charged. Pick up tomorrow's Weekend Herald to read a special report by Kirsty Johnston.


Four of the men were each charged with one count of unlawful sexual connection with a girl aged under 16, while one was charged with two counts. All were first-time offenders and pleaded guilty.

Judge Bidois said the traditional approach was young people needed protecting from themselves. In this case, the girls, who largely rejected the label "victim", had instead become victimised by the system, he said.

"Maybe the law needs to be revisited or at least the sentencing approach to these kind of things needs to be reassessed. In a lot of ways the world has changed ... but underage sex has been around for a long time."

NZME journalist Rachel Smalley this morning questioned whether the age needed to change.

"Given that our diets are better and our lifestyles have improved, our children now go through puberty at a much earlier age than what we did before," she said.

"I wonder whether we need to revisit the age of consent in this country, because I think we're going to have more and more cases like we've just seen in Opotiki going through the courts.

"Sexually active 15-year-olds who have sex with someone who's 16 or 17 -- and then the older person is facing a charge of underage sex."

However, Relationship Matters director Steve Taylor said the judge's comments gave licence to men to act with sexual impunity against minors who are vulnerable young women.


He said parents can no longer have any reasonable confidence in the Judiciary to uphold the laws that were created to protect their children.

He was concerned it sent a message to men that they could target young women for sex.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has told the Herald she is not considering changing the current approach to the age of consent in New Zealand.

"Under New Zealand law there is no age of consent. Rather, the law provides that it is unlawful for any person to have sex with a child under the age of 16 years.

"Where a child is under 12 years of age there is no defence to a charge. However, where the child is over 12 years of age but under 16 years, there is a defence that the person believed the child to be over 16 and that they consented.

"Decisions about whether to bring individual prosecutions are a matter for police and ultimately the Solicitor-General. I haven't given any consideration to amending this approach."


• It is illegal to have sex with anyone under the age of 16

• There is no law that stops people younger than 16 from buying condoms, or to be prescribed the pill or other contraceptives.

• A woman or girl of any age can agree to have an abortion or refuse to have one.

• If you father a child, you are legally and financially responsible for the child until their 19th birthday. If you are under 18, the financial responsibility falls on your parents.