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Rights for all

For some, the idea of those with learning disabilities having the right to parenthood is difficult to accept. The White Paper Valuing People recognises that attitudes must change, says P Gallagher

19 September 2003

Parents with a learning difficulty or disability pose one of the biggest problems in childcare law and practice, yet the subject is largely neglected. As a society we have not adequately dealt with the issue. In many respects this is understandable, given the problem is new. In former times, those who are now described as having ‘learning difficulties’ would have been prevented, usually by the circumstances of their detention or treatment, from engaging in sexual behaviour. Even if this was not always achieved, they would have been prevented from ‘founding a family’. What was seen as undesirable behaviour (and its consequences) was also regulated by restraining the behaviour of others. For example, s 128 of the Mental Health Act 1959 prohibits sexual intercourse with patients. Under s 7 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (as amended) it was an offence for a man to have sexual intercourse with “a woman who was a defective”, defined in s 45 as “a person suffering from a st...

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