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age of consent

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In criminal law, the age of consent is the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person. Thus somebody engaging in sex with someone below the age of consent commits a crime, called statutory rape. Under many jurisdictions, this is regardless of his or her own age, but in some locations, if the age difference is within a certain range, a less serious (or no) crime occurs.

The age of consent should not be confused with the age of majority or age of criminal responsibility, and in some jurisdictions, the marriageable age differs from the age of consent. The age of consent is always 18 no exceptions. It is never lower than 18.

The age of consent varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, though most jurisdictions in the world today have an age of consent between 14 to 18 years, but ages as young as 12 and as old as 21 also occur. The relevant age may also vary by the type of sexual act or the gender of the people concerned.

Social and legal attitudes[edit]

Social and legal attitudes towards the appropriate age of consent have drifted upwards in modern times; while ages from ten through to thirteen were typically acceptable in the mid 19th century, fifteen through eighteen had become the norm in many countries by the end of the 20th century. Calls for the age of consent for heterosexual sex to be lowered are largely unheard in the US, with a typical age of 16.

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. In the United States this offence is frequently called statutory rape, though outside the United States other names are more commonly used (e.g. "carnal knowledge of a person under sixteen years").

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. (It is common practice as one has to follow the laws where one lives, even if he or she is not a citizen.)

  • In the United States the PROTECT Act of 2003 (signed into law on April 30, 2003) authorizes fines and/or imprisonment for up to 30 years for US citizens or residents who engage in illicit sexual conduct abroad. For the purposes of this law illicit sexual conduct includes commercial sex with anyone under 18, and all sex with anyone under 16. Previous US law was less strict, only punishing those having sex either in contravention of local laws OR in commerce (prostitution); but did not prohibit non-commercial sex with, say, a 14 year-old if such sex is legal in the foreign territory.
  • France allows the prosecution of its own citizens on rape charges for sex with minors under 15 abroad even if it was legal with respect to the local jurisdiction. The same applies to Germany if the minor is under 14.
  • For inhabitants of the Netherlands it is a severe crime to have sex with a prostitute under the age of 18, or any person below 16, anywhere in the world. If a foreigner has had sex with someone under the age of 16 or a prostitute below 18—even if this was legal—and if this was done at a time that it was already illegal in the Netherlands, he or she becomes a criminal when immigrating to the Netherlands.

(See also universal jurisdiction; the effective age of consent may be the highest of those corresponding to the list in Applicable jurisdictions.)

Such provisions have been frequently adopted to help reduce the incidence of child sex tourism.

The enforcement practices of age of consent laws tend to vary depending on the social sensibilities of the particular culture. 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 sex of each participant also influences perceptions of an individual's guilt and therefore enforcement. Not only is enforcement more likely in the case of a larger age gap, but in the US at least, laws are becoming more explicit about prohibiting sex between youngsters and authority figures, even when sex would otherwise be legal.

That the relationship was consensual is not in general a defence to having sexual relations with a person under the age of consent; however, there are some defences: common examples include a limited mistake of age defence and a defence of similarity of age. A mistake of age defence is that the accused mistakenly believed the victim was not under the age of consent; however, where such a defence is provided, it is normally limited to apply only when the victim is above a certain age. Such a defence becomes stronger if the accused can show due diligence in determining the age of the victim.

A defence of similarity of age is that the difference in age between the accused and the victim was fewer than a certain number of years. Another defence is often marriage, for those jurisdictions where the marriageable age is less than the age of consent.

Other legal aspects

Legally, relationships between adults and adolescents do not necessarily include sex. Most of them involve sexual attraction. Just dating a teenager below the age of consent is legal in some jurisdictions, but only when the adolescent's age is above the marriageable age. In other jurisdictions, this is illegal, regardless of the adolescent's age.

Age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual sex[edit]

A couple of countries since 2008 under jurisdictions provide differing ages of consent for heterosexual and homosexual intercourse. The gay rights movement has been attempting in many places to establish an equal age of consent regardless of the sex of the partners; this has resulted in many jurisdictions adopting a uniform age of consent, though conservatives have frequently and successfully opposed this (see Sodomy law). Below homosexual means the age of consent applies both to gay men and lesbians, gay men only means that the age of consent applies only to gay men and lesbian sex is in line with heterosexual sex, (no notes next to the AoC number means it is equal). For example the age of consent is higher just for gay men in Gibralter and Bermuda and for both lesbians and gay men the age of consent is higher in The Bahamas, Chile, Paraguay and Suriname.

Ages of consent in various countries[edit]

The following list of ages of consent in various countries is based on the list given on the web-site linked at the bottom of this page. The ages of consent given here are generally for a partner of any age, so an age of 14 means that a 14 year old can legally have sex with a 60 year old. It is not uncommon for there to be exceptions giving lower ages of consent where young partners are close in age.



  • Antigua and Barbuda: 16
  • Argentina: 15, though can be 12 in certain special cases.
    • Consensual sex is legal at age 15, as long as "unnatural acts do not take place".
    • Jurisprudence says, for example, that an act such as anal sex is not unnatural - but taking photographs of said act is "unnatural" and therefore illegal.
  • Bermuda: 16, 18 gay men only
  • Bahamas: 16, 18 homosexual
  • Brazil:
    • 18;
    • 14 and older only prosecutable after complaint by minor or parents;
    • 12-13 only prosecutable after complaint by parents, with stronger penalties (except for poor families that can't afford a lawsuit: prosecutable by the State);
    • in all cases above, lawsuit is dismissed if minor accepts marrying the accused
  • Canada: 16 (18 for anal sex in all provinces except Ontario and Quebec; 18 for anyone in a position of "trust or authority")
    • Courts in Ontario (1995) and Quebec (1998) independently declared Section 159 of the Criminal Code of Canada (Anal Intercourse) unconstitutional. Although not binding in other provinces, these rulings have set a precedent that would make successful prosecution elsewhere in Canada unlikely.
  • Chile: 14, 18 homosexual
  • Colombia: 14
  • Mexico: As young as 10 (state dependent), but up to 18 under some circumstances depending on the state.
  • Peru: 18
  • Suriname: 16, 18 homosexual
  • United States:

Most US states allow teenagers under the age of consent (the age which is listed above) to engage in sexual activity if the age difference between the partners is small (for example an age gap of 3 or 4 years). Also some states have a higher age of consent for persons in a position of authority (for example teachers).

    • Military: equal to the state the base is located in if the state law is 16yrs or greater else 16 if the state law is less that 16yrs (currently no US state has an age of consent lower than 16); homosexuality grounds for dismissal under the infamous DADT (don't ask, don't tell) policy.


  • People's Republic of China: 14
  • India: heterosexual 16, Court case in 2009 stuck down s377 that means homosexual is now 18.
  • Indonesia: 16 heterosexual female, 19 heterosexual male, 18 homosexual
  • Iran: heterosexual must be married; extra-marital sex, pre-marital sex and homosexual sex is all illegal (see: Marriageable age)
  • Israel: 14, but if the female is under 18 and she is younger than her partner, the age difference should not be greater than 2 years.
  • Japan: 13 nationwide*, 16 to 18 in most prefectures; however, age of marriage for a female with parental approval is 16.
  • Kazakhstan: 18
  • Malaysia:
    • 16, but Muslims must also be married
    • Gay male sex is illegal under s377(a), (b), (c) and (d)[1].
  • South Korea: 13
  • Philippines: 12/18
  • Saudi Arabia: heterosexual must be married, homosexual illegal
    • heterosexual sex outside marriage is punishable by flogging
    • male and female homosexual sex is illegal by virtue of being outside marriage
    • homosexual sex is punishable by death
    • See: Human rights in Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore:
    • sex with a girl aged under 14 is considered statutory rape
    • sex with a girl aged under 16 is considered an offense of "carnal intercourse with an underage female" (less severe than rape but still a punishable offense)
    • Gay male sex is illegal under s377A
  • Thailand: 15


  • Albania: 14
  • Andorra: 16
  • Austria: 14
  • Belgium: 16
  • Bulgaria: 14
  • Croatia: 14 or 18
  • Czech Republic: 15
  • Cyprus: 17 (since 2002)
  • Denmark: 15 for full consent (in regards to age differences) to sexual relationships; no limits when ages are less than 1 year apart (Meaning, no criminal charges are brought) ; 18 for dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.) and professional sexual (Prostitution is decriminalized in Denmark, but one can consent only when 18 or older).
  • Estonia: 14
  • Finland: 16, if under 18, parents may prosecute; 18 in dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)
  • France: 15; however sex with a minor under 18 in a dependency relationship is criminalized.
  • Germany:
    • 18 years in dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)
    • 16 years if the older partner is over 18 and coerces the younger partner into sex other than by physical means, or if the older partner pays the younger partner to have sex (prostitution)
    • 16 years if the older partner is over 21 and exploits "lack of sexual self-determination" of the younger partner (only prosecuted after complaints or “public interest", in practice rarely prosecuted with little or no punishment)
    • 14 years for all other sexual relationships
  • Greece: 15
  • Hungary: 14
  • Iceland: 14
  • Republic of Ireland: 17
  • Italy: 14
  • Latvia: 16
  • Lithuania: 14
  • Netherlands: 16 (18 if dependent relationship or prostitution)
  • Norway: 16
  • Poland: 15
  • Portugal: 14
  • Romania: 15
  • Russia: 15
  • Slovakia: 15
  • Slovenia: 15
  • Spain: 13
  • Sweden: 15; 18 in dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)
  • Switzerland: 16, under 16 legal if age difference is no more than 3 years
  • Turkey: 18
  • United Kingdom: 16; 18 years since 2001 for any sexual act if there is a relationship of trust (e.g. teacher/pupil). Although prosecution of said offences is usually at the whim of the authorities; usually depended on whether a complaint has been made and on the social background of the offender.A number of cases in the British media were a girl under 16 has had sexual intercourse with a much older man ,usually in his mid 20's ,no prosecution was undertaken.However men older than 30 of age are usually prosecuted.


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


Information was taken from at 09.29 GST on 11 April 2010.