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THE GIRL CHILD - AGE OF CONSENT: Issues-Concerns-Human Rights-Dignity-Protection
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Age of Consent

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Worldwide age of consent laws.
Worldwide age of consent laws.

While the phrase age of consent (AoC) typically does not appear in legal statutes,[1] when used with reference to criminal law the age of consent is the minimum age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to any contract or behaviour regulated by law with another person. This article refers specifically to those laws regulating sexual acts. This should not be confused with the age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, or the marriageable age.

The age of consent varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.[1] The median seems to range from 14 to 16 years, but laws stating ages as young as 12 and as old as 21 do exist. Some jurisdictions forbid sexual activity outside of legal marriage completely. The relevant age may also vary by the type of sexual act, the gender of the actors, or other restrictions such as abuse of a position of trust. Some jurisdictions may also make allowances for minors engaged in sexual acts with each other, rather than a hard and fast single age. Charges resulting from a breach of these laws may range from a relatively low-level misdemeanor such as "corruption of a minor," to "statutory rape" (which is considered equivalent to rape, both in severity and sentencing).

There are many grey areas in this area of law, some regarding unspecific and untried legislation, others brought about by debates regarding changing societal attitudes, and others due to conflicts between federal and state laws. These factors all make age of consent an often confusing subject, and a topic of highly charged debates.[1]


Social attitudes

Social (and the resulting legal) attitudes toward the appropriate age of consent have drifted upwards in modern times; while ages from 10 through to 13 were typically acceptable in the mid-Nineteenth Century[1] (Pg7), 15 through to 18 had become the norm in many countries by the end of the Twentieth Century.

Moral philosophy

The general moral philosophy behind AoC laws is the assumed need for the protection of minors. It is a common belief in many societies that minors below a certain age lack the maturity and/or life experience to fully understand the ramifications of engaging in sexual acts. These fears may include but are not limited to resulting pregnancies and psychological or physical damage. There is an ongoing debate in many cultures regarding child sexuality as it relates to age and an appropriate age of consent.[1] It is these debates that have informed the various laws in different jurisdictions and account for their disparity. Different cultures regard minors engaging in sexual activity as anything from normal to regarding it as deviant behavior in need of correction.

Religious basis

Many legal systems refer to or are informed by the moral viewpoint of lawmakers, or refer to or appeal to cultural and religious norms. For example the Common law systems practised in the United Kingdom and its former colonies were developed in the context of Christian values and Western Philosophy. Similarly the Laws in many Muslim based countries are based on the Qur'an and the resulting Sharia. In some legal systems secular philosophies form part of the culture and likewise are part of the context in which the laws are formed, sometimes leading to changes in the law of previous periods. Difference in opinion between various religious and secular groups forms a part of the cultural context of AoC.


Sexual relations with a person under the age of consent is in general a criminal offence, with punishments ranging from token fines to life imprisonment. Many different terms exist for the charges laid and include statutory rape, illegal carnal knowledge, or corruption of a minor.[1]

The enforcement practises of AoC laws tend to vary depending on the social sensibilities of the particular culture (see above). Often enforcement is not exercised to the letter of the law, with legal action being taken only when a sufficiently socially-unacceptable age gap exists between the two individuals, or if the perpetrator is in a position of authority over the minor (e.g., a teacher, priest, or doctor). The gender of each actor can also influence perceptions of an individual's guilt and therefore enforcement.[1]

 Close in age exceptions

While some legislation dealing with age of consent sets a hard and fast age under which sexual relations are prohibited, some jurisdictions have included exceptions to this. The exception can take the form of a defence at trial on the grounds of the close age of the participants, or can be an actual close in age exemption in the law negating any charges. The latter details acceptable age ranges for consensual sex between peers that otherwise would not be legal because one or both of the participants would be below the age of consent. The age differences of these two types of legislation vary by jurisdiction, from as low as one year to as high as ten years (e.g. South Australia and Colorado).

[edit] Defences

The AoC is a legal barrier to the minor being able to give consent and as such obtaining consent is not in general a defence to having sexual relations with a person under the prescribed age. However, there are some defences in some jurisdictions; common examples include;

These different defences can change dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, even between neighbouring states of the same union with the same AoC.


Increasingly the age of consent laws of a state apply not only to acts committed on its own territory, but also acts committed by its nationals and/or inhabitants on foreign territory[1](pp.53-55). Such provisions have been frequently adopted to help reduce the incidence of Child sex tourism. See the relevant sections below for discussion of laws in specific jurisdictions. (See also Universal jurisdiction; the effective age of consent may be the highest of those corresponding to the list in Applicable jurisdictions.)

 Other concerns


Main article: Marriageable age

The age at which a person can be legally married can also differ from the age of consent. In some jurisdictions this can negate the age of consent laws where the marriageable age is lower than the age of consent, but in others it does not. Further still, some jurisdictions have no actual age of consent but require persons to be married before they can legally engage in sexual activity.

[edit] Prostitution

The age at which a person can engage in prostitution (if it is at all legal in a jurisdiction) is often set at the age of majority rather than at the AoC. This is possibly due to the legal nature of contract as well as moral reasons.[citation needed]

 Statutory rape

Main article: statutory rape

Where a jurisdiction's age of consent laws for sexual activity treat those convicted of those laws with the same severity as criminal rape the law is often referred to as statutory rape. This is an emotive title to some who view the age of consent laws as lesser crimes or as no crime at all. The different titles of age of consent laws include statutory rape, rape of a child, corruption of a minor, carnal knowledge of a minor and so on. However, in the vernacular many of these terms are interchangeable and little differentiation is made.

 Initiatives to change the age of consent

Main article: Age of consent reform

Age of consent reform refers to the efforts of some individuals or groups, for different reasons and with varying arguments, to raise, lower, abolish or otherwise alter age of consent laws. These efforts advocate five main positions:

There is an ongoing debate over these laws. However, critics on both sides of these arguments are often arguing at cross purposes due to their differences in defining what exactly the age of consent laws are to achieve and who they are intended to protect. For example those advocating close in age exceptions may be held up by their opponents as contradicting the protective nature of the age of consent law. Historical study demonstrates that minimum age laws, which in English law originally applied only to girls, were not initially created with a rationale focussing on the competence and consent of an individual female child, but rather with a focus upon the changing physical body of a child, understood within a framework of patriarchal family property relations in which men were understood to own wives and children.[1](pp.60-67). While many contemporary commentators focus on 'consent' as the appropriate rationale for determining minimum age laws, and hence 'age of consent' laws have increasingly been perceived as representing and embodying a focus on 'consent', Matthew Waites has recently argued that this reflects a preoccupation with the individual's psychological competence and consent among legal theorists, and a lack of sociologically informed discussion and appreciation of issues of social structure. Waites argues that the rationale for minimum age laws may be more appropriately determined via analysis of the situation of young people as embodied subjects in the context of various institutional and social power relations, rather than via a focus on the understanding of these power relations by young people themselves which tends to dominate debates over such laws.[1](Chap.9).

 Ages of consent in various countries

Countries are listed by the seven continent model
Countries are listed by the seven continent model

Specific jurisdictions' laws relating to Age of Consent can be found on the following pages:

[edit] Listed by geographic region

__ Africa

__ Asia

__ Australia and Pacific Region

__ Europe

__ North America

__ South America

__ While there are no specific age of consent laws in the Antarctic, in the unlikely event of a minor engaing in sexual activity, under the Antarctic Treaty, scientists and support staff stationed there may be subject to the laws of the party of which they are nationals. Other visitors to the continent may need to follow the laws of the country in which their expedition is organised, or the country from which it departs.[3]

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