Let 12-year-olds change gender without parental consent, Scottish government told

·4-min read
Scotland - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Scotland - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A leading charity for young people has called on the SNP to allow children as young as 12 to legally change their gender without their parents’ consent.

Children in Scotland, which receives more than £1 million a year in public money, said allowing pre-teens to obtain gender recognition certificates could prove “extremely beneficial” and would help “normalise trans identities”.

The claims were criticised by opponents of a highly controversial overhaul of gender recognition laws in Scotland, who claimed children should not be empowered to make “irreversible” decisions that could impact on them for life.

Under current Scottish Government plans, the legal age at which someone can change gender is to be reduced from 18 to 16.

However, Children in Scotland described the move as only “a positive first step” and said children had “considerations about their gender identity” at a younger age.

'Potentially extremely beneficial for trans young people'

In a response to a Scottish government consultation, it said “consideration should be given to lowering this further to 12”, arguing the “opportunity” could be “potentially extremely beneficial for trans young people”.

“Lowering the age at which people have the opportunity to apply for a gender recognition certificate to 12 would ensure that far more children and young people are able to undergo this process, should they wish to,” the Edinburgh-based organisation said.

“Parents provide a vital support to children and have a key role to play in this process for their children. However, we do not believe they should have a final say on whether their child can apply to have their lived gender legally recognised.”

Other LGBT advocacy groups, such as Stonewall, have also called for a route to allow under 16s to legally change their gender.

The Scottish Green Party, which recently entered government under a power sharing pact with Nicola Sturgeon, said it was “open to including those under 16 with parental consent”.

'We think our 12-year-olds deserve better'

However, Trina Budge, director of the For Women Scotland campaign group, said there was growing evidence that gender identities in children often changed over time.

The Telegraph reported on Sunday that dozens of 16- and 17-year-olds have been assessed for double mastectomies on the NHS in Scotland, raising fears that the legal changes would lead to more young people accessing irreversible surgery.

“We think our 12-year-olds deserve better,” Ms Budge said. “The Government is keen to tell us this is a solemn and serious business, indeed it is a once in a lifetime decision to change the sex recorded on your birth certificate, with no legal process to reverse it.

“We have a responsibility to protect children from irreversible decisions, particularly those which may attract a criminal penalty should they get it wrong by making what may turn out to be a false declaration regarding gender.”

She added: “The ever increasing number of detransitioners should be a clear signal that identities are not fixed in children who still have so much growing and learning to do, and they should not be locked into either a medical or legal pathway.”

Under the legal overhaul, people would also be able to self-declare their own gender, rather than having to undergo medical assessments. The length of time they were required to live as a male or female before legal recognition would be slashed from two years to three months.

'No intention to allow under-16s apply for legal gender recognition'

Advocates of the changes, including Nicola Sturgeon, say the moves are intended to support a marginalised minority group in which mental health problems are rife.

However, opponents claim they would redefine what it means to be female and could potentially expose women to risk by opening up single-sex spaces to male-bodied individuals.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Scottish government is committed to making necessary changes to the Gender Recognition Act to improve and simplify the process by which a trans person can obtain legal recognition. We will do this whilst ensuring we uphold the rights and protections that women and girls currently have under the Equality Act.

“We have now consulted twice on our proposed changes. First on the principles of reform in 2017, and then in 2019 on a draft Gender Recognition Bill, outlining the proposed changes to improve the way legal gender recognition is obtained, as well as draft impact assessments. These have been two of the largest consultations ever undertaken by the Scottish Government.

“In developing the draft Bill and impact assessments ministers confirmed that they do not intend to allow people under the age of 16 to apply for legal gender recognition.”

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