New kerb crawling laws come into force
New laws to crack down on kerb crawling and prostitution were introduced in Northern Ireland today.
Tougher measures to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse and exploitation will also come into effective.
The Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order, which passed through parliament last year, brings legislation in the region into line with the rest of the UK.
The courts will now be able to impose tougher penalties for a range of sexual offences and new offences of kerb crawling and soliciting for prostitution have been placed on the statue book.
Criminal Justice Minister Paul Goggins said the new framework was victim centred.
"The introduction of these new laws is the first major overhaul of sexual offences legislation in Northern Ireland for more than a century," he said.
"The new legislation clearly sets out the parameters of acceptable sexual activity in a modern society and clearly states what the law will not tolerate.
"The law puts victims first. They are designed to protect everyone - adults, as well as children and vulnerable people - from abuse and exploitation."
The new offences include :
Sexual activity involving a child under 13 can mean a maximum life sentence;
Sexual activity with anyone under 16 means a maximum sentence of 14 years;
Rape and other serious sexual assault means a maximum of life;
Offences of familial sexual abuse, or where an adult is in a position of trust, will protect young people up to 18;
Offences involving abuse of young people in prostitution or pornography will likewise protect those up to 18; and
Offences relating to making, taking and possessing indecent images of children will be extended to apply to children up to 18 instead of 16 as at present.
Mr Goggins said: "The Order also sets the age of consent at 16 - in line with the rest of the UK. This defines the age in law at which a criminal offence takes place even when consent is given."