Age of consent
The age of consent is an arbitrary age at which a person is considered legally capable of consenting to sex in the jurisdiction in which that person resides. 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 definition highlights several important factors which go into determing the age of consent. The first is that it is arbitrary. In other words, the age is not chosen based on an empirical and measureable quality within the individual himself which relates to the capacity for consent, but rather, it is chosen as a compromise number based largely on political, social, psychological and judicial precedent factors in a legislative process often only marginally related to the actual capabilities of the individuals to which it is applied. This is, unfortunately, necessary if such an age must be determined, due to the simple fact that no two individuals mature at precisely the same rate.
The second important factor is that of legal capability. In other words, the age of consent does not purport to establish anything about the child in question, or his actually (psychological and/or intellectual) ability to consent. Rather, it simply establishes the age at which the child's consent -- whether or not he can be established in fact capable -- will be accepted by the legal institutions authorized to validate it.
Another important factor is that of jurisdiction. A jurisdiction represents the abstract collection of individuals over whom a certain legal institution has authority (see jurisdiction for a more detailed analysis of this definition). As a direct consequence of the arbitrariness of the age of consent, the actual number varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. An individual who may be capable of legally consenting in one area may, simply by crossing a border, find that his consent is no longer valid.
Finally, note that the age of consent is traditionally applicable to the issue of sexual consent. Most jurisdictions separately declare ages for other defined adult activities such as voting (see age of majority), driving, drinking or entering into military service.
The current debate on age of consent falls into roughly four camps (note that these are very loosely defined and much overlap and tangled line-drawing occurs):
- The conservative position (not the political term "conservative" but rather, conservative meaning in favor of the status quo or minimal change) holds that current age of consent laws are appropriate and should be enforced as they stand. This would segue into a radical conservative position holding that jurisdictions with lower ages of consent should bring themselves up to parity with jurisdictions with higher ones.
- The revisionist position holds that, while age of consent in itself is a valid and desirable concept, the current numbers are too high or unrealistic and should be revised downwards.
- The repeal position holds that the concept of age of consent should be eliminated completely.
- The replacement position holds that the concept of age of consent is not valid for its purported purpose and should be replaced with another system of determining capability to legally consent. The replacements most typically take the form of some type of preparation or education, examination or empirically gradable "test" to determine whether an individual is ready, sometimes coupled with licensing schemes.
Ages of consent around the world
DISCLAIMER: This section is intended for educational purposes only and should not be used to inform personal decisions. If you are in any doubt about the age of consent law in your region then please seek expert legal advice. Some or all of the information on this page may not be current as age of consent laws change frequently.
- The ages of consent stated below are for relationships between an adult and a non-adult male. Some countries do criminalize acts between minors (eg the United States) but some have a lower age of consent for acts between minors (eg Austria, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Italy, Lichtenstein).
- Higher age of consent laws for homosexuals in European Union countries (eg Greece, Ireland, Portugal) can be challenged on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights (as it has been the case of the United Kingdom). This is not the case of the USA states however, since the Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that stricter rules for males do not violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
- Most of the below stated ages of consent would not be valid if the adult in question is in a position of authority (teacher, doctor, guardian, etc) sometimes even regardless whether the authority was not misused.
- Some countries (eg Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, France, Norway) have recently made laws making their citizens liable to prosecution under their laws regardless of where the contact occurred. Similarly, in the United States a 1994 Federal law made an offence to travel to another US state or another country to have sex with someone under 16.
- Albania 18
- Andorra 16
- New South Wales 16
- Northern Territory 16
- Queensland 16 (18 for anal intercourse)
- Western Australia 16
- Victoria 16
- Tasmania 17
- Austria 18
- Belarus 18 (for oral and anal intercourse or other "depraving" acts)
- Belgium 16
- Bosnia Herzegovina 14 (anal intercourse illegal at any age)
- Brasil 14
- Bulgaria 18
- Canada 14 (18 for anal intercourse and for any person in a "position of authority")
- Chile 20
- Croatia 14
- Czech Republic 15
- Denmark 15
- Faroer Islands 18
- Estonia 16 (for anal intercourse or other "depraving" acts)
- Finland 16
- France 15
- Georgia 16 (certain acts illegal at any age)
- Germany 16
- Greece 17 (due to the law against "seduction" with no screening possible)
- Greenland 15
- Hungary 18
- Iceland 14
- Ireland 17
- Italy 14
- Japan 13 (prefecture law usually overrides federal law raising the age up to 18)
- Latvia 14
- Liechtenstein 18
- Lithuania 18 (for anal and oral intercoure) 16 (for other "depraving" acts)
- Luxemburg 16
- Macedonia 14
- Malta 12 (the Interpol website gives 18, but when you cross check for other countries', you see its not always accurate)
- Moldova 18 (for anal intercourse) 16 (for oral intercourse or other "depraving" acts)
- Monaco 15
- Montenegro 14
- Netherlands 16
- New Zealand 16
- Norway 16
- Philippines 12 (18 for money, profit or other consideration under the influence of an adult)
- Papua New Guinea (homosexuality illegal at any age)
- Poland 15
- Portugal 16
- Romania 18
- Russia 14
- San Marino 14
- Serbia 14 (18 for anal intercourse)
- Kosovo 14 (anal intercourse illegal at any age)
- Vojvodina 14
- Slovakia 15
- Slovenia 14
- South Korea 13
- Spain 16 
- Sweden 15
- Switzerland 16
- Taiwan 16
- Thailand 15 (18 for prostitutes)
- Turkey 15 (18 for anal intercourse)
- Tuvaly (homosexuality illegal at any age)
- Ukraine 16 (for oral and anal intercourse or other "depraving" acts)
- United Kingdom
- England and Wales 16
- Scotland 16
- Northern Ireland 17
- Guernsey 21 (illegal even if over 21 if more than two persons are present)
- Gibraltar 18 (illegal even if over 18 if more than two persons are present)
- Isle of Man 21 (illegal even if over 21 if more than two persons are present)
- Jersey 16 (21 for anal intercourse, illegal even if over 21 if more than two persons are present)
- United States
- Alabama 18
- Alaska 16
- American Samoa 14
- Arizona 18
- Arkansas 18
- California 18
- Colorado 17
- Florida 18
- Georgia 16
- Guam 16
- Hawaii 14
- Idaho 18
- Illinois 16
- Kansas 16
- Louisiana 18
- Maryland 18
- Massachusetts 16
- Michigan 18
- Minnesota 18
- Mississipi 18
- Missouri 18
- Montana 16
- Nevada 14 (anal intercourse illegal at any age)
- North Carolina 18
- North Dakota 18
- Pennsylvania 16
- Puerto Rico (homosexuality illegal at any age)
- Rhode Island 18
- South Carolina 18
- Utah 14
- Vermont 16
- Virginia 18
- Virgin Islands 18 (anal and oral intercourse illegal at any age)
- Washington 16
- Wyoming 19
- Vatican 12
- Vietnam 16
SOURCE: Adapted from Helmut Graupner, "Sexual consent: the criminal law in Europe and overseas," Archives of Sexual Behavior 29, no. 5 (2000): 415-461, which contains information updated to 24 June 2000. Some entries were further updated to include the legal changes that occurred after 2000 using .
The case of the Netherlands
Much discussion has been devoted to the age of consent in the Netherlands. According to a law passed in 1989, even though the age of consent was set at 16, sex between an adult and a young person between 12 and 16 was not an offence if the young person consented to the contact. Prosecutions for coercive sex could be sought by the young person or his/her parents.
The law which stirred much discussion (see Schuijer 1991, 1993, 1995, Faust 1995) and praised as positive for adolescent sexuality (Levine 2002, 89) was later repealled in 2002 by a very rare unanimous vote in the Dutch parliament (Hekma 2004).
The Common Law has this notion since the Statutes of Westminster [3 Edw, c.13, 1275], [13 Edw, c.34, 1285], where it was set at 12 years; 18 Eliz, ch.7 §4  lowered it to ten years. Ten or twelve years remained the age of consent in Colonial America and later until the 1890s, after it had been raised to sixteen years in Great Britain in 1885. This led to intense lobbying in the United States and the formation of a rather stable coalition of feminists, religious conservatives, and liberals and succeeded in raising the age of consent in the U.S. as well. From this time the law is as much about controlling juveniles as about protecting them, and anomalous in that one usually is allowed to marry at an age one is considered incapable to consent to sex. Until the 1970s this only applied to (white) girls. The recent history (1970 onwards) is subject of the interesting study by Caroline E. Cocca.
- (NOTE: See the External links section below for links to many of the following.)
- Baker, C. (1983) "The Age of Consent Controversy: Age and Gender As Social Practice." Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 19(1): 96-112.
- Baurmann, M. (2005) "Sexuality, Adolescence and the Criminal Law: The Perspective of Criminology." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 16(2/3): 71-88.
- Böllinger, L. (2005) "Adolescence, Sexual Aggression and the Criminal Law." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 16(2/3): 89-104.
- Brongersma, E. (1980) "The meaning of 'indecency' with respect to moral offences involving children." British Journal of Criminology 20(1): 20-34.
- Brongersma, E. (1988) "A Defence of Sexual Liberty for All Age Groups." Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 27(1): 32-43.
- Brown, M. (1996) "The Age of Consent: The Parliamentary Campaign in the UK to Lower the Age of Consent for Homosexual Acts." Journal of Legislative Studies 2(2): 1-7.
- Bullough, V. L. (2005) "Age of Consent: A Historical Overview." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 16(2/3): 25-42.
- Cocca, C. E. (2004) Jailbait: The Politics of Statutory Rape Laws in the United States. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
- Ellis, S. J. and C. Kitzinger (2002) "Denying equality: An analysis of arguments against lowering the age of consent for sex between men." Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 12(3): 167-180.
- Faust, B. (1995) "Child sexuality and age of consent laws: The Netherlands model." Australasian Gay and Lesbian Law Journal 5: 78-85.
- Graupner, H. (1999) "Love versus abuse: crossgenerational sexual relations of minors: a gay rights issue?" Journal of Homosexuality 37(4): 23-56.
- Graupner, H. (2000) "Sexual consent: The criminal law in Europe and overseas." Archives of Sexual Behavior 29(5): 415-461.
- Graupner, H. (2005) "The 17-Year-Old Child: An Absurdity of the Late 20th Century." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 16(2/3): 7-24. (.pdf file)
- Hekma, G. (2004) "Queer: The Dutch case." GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 10(2): 276-280.
- Hofmeister, L. (2005) "14 to 18 Year Olds as 'Children' by Law? Reflections on Developments in National European Law." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 16(2/3): 63-70.
- Killias, M. (1990) "The Historic Origins of Penal Statutes Concerning Sexual Activities Involving Children and Adolescents." Journal of Homosexuality 20 (1/2): 41-46.
- Leahy, T. (1006) "Sex and the age of consent: the ethical issues." Social Analysis 39(April): 27-55.
- Levine, J. (2002) Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex. Mineapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Maplestone, P. and R. Roberts (2002) "Young gay men and the age of consent in New South Wales.” Word is Out 3(June): 13-21. (.pdf file)
- Mawby, R. I. (1979) "Policing the Age of Consent." Journal of Adolescence 2(1): 41-49.
- Powell, D. E. B. (1994) "Homosexuality and Age of Consent." Lancet 343(8898): 674.
- Rind, B., P. Tromovitch & R. Bauserman (2001) "The validity and appropriateness of methods, analyses, and conclusions in Rind et al. (1998): A rebuttal of victimological critique from Ondersma et al. (2001) and Dallam et al. (2001)." Psychological Bulletin 127: 734-758.
- Robertson, S. 2002) "Age of consent law and the making of modern childhood in New York City, 1886-1921." Journal of Social History 35(4): 781-798.
- Schuijer, J. (1991) "Tolerance at Arm's Length: The Dutch Experience." Journal of Homosexuality 20 (1/2): 199-229.
- Schuijer, J. (1993) "The Netherlands Changes its Age Of Consent Law." Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia 3(1): 13-17.
- Schuijer, J. (1995) "Recent Legal Developments in the Netherlands." Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia 3(4): 64-71.
- Weber, A. (2001) "Europeanwide Criminalization of Juvenile Sexuality up to 18." EuroLetter 91: 6-8.
- Weis, D. and V. L. Bullough (2005) "Adolescent American Sex." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 16(2/3): 43-54.
- Age of consent laws (comparison of changes in)
- Statutory rape
- Informed consent - realistic examples for today's society
- Statutory Rape Laws in Historical Context by Carolyn Cocca (Chapter one of Jailbait, Carolyn Cocca, ed.)
- View/download A Defence of Sexual Liberty for All Age Groups(1988)-Edward Brongersma.pdf at this link:
- Sex and the age of consent: The ethical issues by Edward Brongersma
- Alternate copy of above is archived at archive.is
- View/download SEX AND THE AGE OF CONSENT- The Ethical Issues(1996) Terry Leahy.pdf
- View/download The Historic Origins of Penal Statutes Concerning Sexual Activities Involving Children (1991) by Martin Killias
- View/download Sexuality, Adolescence and the Criminal Law (2004) Michael C. Baurmann.pdf
- View/download Age of Consent - A Historical Overview (2004) by Vern L. Bullough.pdf
- View/download Sexual Consent - The Criminal Law in Europe and Outside of Europe (2004) by Helmut Graupner.pdf --
- View/download Child sexuality and age of consent laws- the Netherlands model (1995) Beatrice Faust.pdf
- View/download Denying equality- An analysis of arguments against lowering the age of consent (2002) Ellis&Kitzinger
- View/download Consent to Sexual Relations (2003) Alan_Wertheimer.pdf
- Download Graupner, H. (2005) "The 17-Year-Old Child: An Absurdity of the Late 20th Century." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 16(2/3): 7-24. (.pdf file)
- View/download Crimes against Children- Sexual Violence and Legal Culture in New York City, 1880-1960 (2005)Stephen Robertson
- The age of consent (1997) by Rachel Simpson and Honor Figgis- Briefing Paper No 21/97(AUSTRALIA)
(NOTE: Hopefully, to be added at a later date: Sex, Power and Consent - Youth Culture and the Unwritten Rules-Anastasia Powell)