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While the phrase age of consent typically does not appear in legal statutes,[1], when used in relation to sexual activity, the age of consent is the minimum age at which a person is considered to be legally competent of consenting to sexual acts. The EU calls it the legal age for sexual activities. It should not be confused with the age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, or the marriageable age.

The age of consent varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.[1] Some jurisdictions forbid sexual activity outside of legal marriage completely.[citation needed] 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 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. For example, while ages from 10 to 13 were typically acceptable in western countries during the mid-19th century,[1] 15 to 18 had become the norm in many countries by the end of the 20th century.[citation needed]


Sexual relations with a person under the age of consent is in general a criminal offence, with punishments ranging from community service up to the death penalty.[citation needed] Many different terms exist for the charges laid and include child sexual abuse, statutory rape, illegal carnal knowledge, or corruption of a minor.[1]

The enforcement practices of age of consent 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 most legislation dealing with age of consent sets a single age under which sexual relations are illegal, some jurisdictions have adopted close-in-age exemptions in recent decades.[citation needed] For example, in Canada, the age of consent is 16, but there are two close-in-age exemptions: teenagers who are 14 or 15 may have sex with a partner who is less than five years older, [2] and children aged 12 and 13 may have sex with a partner who is less than two years older.


The age of consent 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. Common examples include:

  • Reasonably believe that the victim is over the age of consent – in some jurisdictions, (such as the United Kingdom[3]), it is a defence if the accused can show that they reasonably believed the victim was over the age of consent. However, where such a defense is provided, it normally applies only when the victim is close to the age of consent or the accused can show due diligence in determining the age of the victim. (e.g. A 15 year old who used a fake ID to get into a bar for people 18 & older).[4]
  • Marriage – in those jurisdictions where the marriageable age is less than the age of consent.[citation needed]
  • Rape – where someone under the age of consent detains and rapes someone over the age of consent.[citation needed]

These different defenses can change dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, even between neighbouring states of the same union with the same age of consent.


Increasingly the age of consent laws of a state are applied not only to acts committed on its own territory, but also acts committed by its nationals or inhabitants on foreign territory.[1] Such provisions have been frequently adopted to help reduce the incidence of child sex tourism.

Homosexual and heterosexual age discrepancies

Some jurisdictions, such as The Bahamas, Bermuda, Chile, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey and Suriname, have a higher age of consent for homosexual intercourse. However, such disparities are increasingly being challenged. In Canada, and the Australian state of Queensland, the age of consent for anal sex is officially higher at 18, compared with 16 for vaginal sex.[5][6] In both countries, these laws have been superseded by federal law and/or declared unconstitutional by courts.[7][8] Cases such as Lawrence v. Texas in the Supreme Court of the United States and Morris v. The Crown (United Kingdom) in the European Court of Human Rights have set precedents for international law.[citation needed]

Statutory rape

Where a jurisdiction's age of consent laws for sexual activity treat those convicted of those laws with the same severity as other forms of rape the law is often referred to as statutory rape. 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 others. However, in the vernacular many of these terms are interchangeable and little differentiation is made.

Position of authority/trust

In some parts of the world, (such as the United Kingdom[9]), in cases where a person is in a position of trust over a child or young person the age of consent is set higher. Examples include a teacher and student.

Other concerns


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.[citation needed]


Variations also exist in some countries between the age of consent and the age at which an individual can appear in pornographic images and films. In many jurisdictions, the minimum age for legal participation and even viewing of such productions is 18. Films and images showing individuals under the age of 18 (or who appear to be under in some jurisdictions) in applicable jurisdictions can be classified as child pornography, even though the legal age of consent in those same jurisdictions is lower than 17.


While the legality of adult prostitution varies between different parts of the world, the prostitution of minors is illegal in most countries. Furthermore, some countries enforce worldwide jurisdiction over any involvement in child prostitution by their nationals.

Initiatives to change the age of consent

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:

  • An introduction of close-in-age exceptions.
  • A change in the way age of consent laws are examined in court.
  • An increase in the ages of consent, more severe penalties for violation of these laws or both.
  • A decrease in the ages of consent, less severe penalties for violation of these laws or both.
  • To abolish the age of consent laws altogether or as a temporary practical expedient.

Ages of consent in various countries

Specific jurisdictions' laws relating to age of consent can be found on the following pages:

Antarctica – There are no specific age of consent laws in the Antarctic. In the unlikely event of a minor engaging in sexual activity, under the Antarctic Treaty, scientists and support staff stationed there may be subject to the laws of the country of which they are nationals. Other visitors to the continent may need to follow the laws of the country in which their expedition is organized, or the country from which it departs.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Waites, Matthew (2005). The Age of Consent: Young People, Sexuality and Citizenship. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-2173-3. OCLC 238887395 58604878. 
  2. ^ "Canada's age of consent raised by 2 years". CBC News. 2008-05-01. Retrieved on 2009-03-22. 
  3. ^ "Sexual Offences Act 2003 (See Sections 9 to 12)" (PDF). Published by the Government of the United Kingdom, (Office of Public Sector Information). 
  4. ^ Larry W. Myers (1965). "Reasonable Mistake of Age: A Needed Defense to Statutory Rape". Michigan Law Review 64 (1): 105–136. - [1]. doi:10.2307/1287118. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ "Sexual Offences Act 2003 (See Sections 16 to 24)" (PDF). Published by the Government of the United Kingdom, (Office of Public Sector Information). 
  10. ^ "What is the treaty?". Australian Antarctic Division. 2006-03-23. Retrieved on 2006-07-18. 

Further reading

Published books on the subject:

  • Waites, Matthew (2005) The Age of Consent: Young People, Sexuality and Citizenship, (New York [United States] and Houndmills, Basingstoke [United Kingdom]: Palgrave Macmillan) ISBN 1-4039-2173-3

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




age of consent

  1. (law) The age at which a person is legally considered to be mature enough to engage willingly in sexual intercourse.

Note: The term is used to indicate the age at which it is no longer a crime for someone else to engage in consensual sexual intercourse with the person who is still younger than the age of consent, as they are considered statutorily a victim of a crime, because by law they are considered incapable of giving permission to someone else to engage in sexual intercourse with them.


See also

Simple English

If two people want to have sex, law says that they must have a certain age. This is called the age of consent. At that age, law says that the people are mature enough to decide for themselves if they want to have sex with each other.

The age of consent varies between states and countries, but it is usually around 12-18 years.

If a person is caught having sex with someone who is below the age of consent, he or she may be punished as a sex offender. They may have to serve a prison sentence.

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