Law, Policy and Practice: National and International Dimensions
As we identified in Chap. 2, within contemporary Western discourses, the categories of childhood and youth are positioned as vulnerable, at risk and in need of protection. The legacy of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century constructions of childhood and sexuality continues to characterise children and young people as asexual or pre-sexual and “untroubled and untouched by the cares of the (adult) sexual world to come” (Renold 2005: 17). Young children are conceptualised as sexually unaware, separated from and unencumbered by the corrupting influences of adulthood, whilst older children and young people are seen as embarking on a stressful and turbulent transition to adult sexuality; a transition that must be carefully managed by adults if it is to be successful. Not surprisingly, these dominant constructions of childhood and sexuality become institutionalised in a range of discourses and, especially, in the area of law and policy concerning children and young people where sexuality can be seen as simultaneously absent and present (Moore and Prescott 2013). When law and policy does make explicit references to sexuality, it is couched within a protectionist, heteronormative and welfare discourse which portrays sexuality as something that adults inappropriately impose on children and from which they must be protected. Alternatively, sexuality is positioned within a context of risk and so-called ‘risk-taking’ behaviours whereby children and young people engage in sexual risk taking alongside other risk-taking activities, such as drug and alcohol consumption. Here, it is the very act of engaging in sexual activity that is deemed to be risky “because of the (non)status afforded to them as children and young people. Such ‘risks’ have to be managed, limited and contained by adults” (Moore and Prescott 2013: 198). What is absent in contemporary law and policy is any meaningful sense of children and young people as sexual beings who are able to exercise choice and agency in the creation and expression of their gender and sexual identities.
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