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While the phrase age of consent typically does not appear in legal statutes, 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 European Union 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. 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.

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, 15 to 18 had become the norm in many countries by the end of the 20th century.


Age of consent laws for heterosexual sex Worldwide
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. Many different terms exist for the charges laid and include child sexual abuse, statutory rape, illegal carnal knowledge, or corruption of a minor.

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, minister or doctor). The gender of each actor can also influence perceptions of an individual's guilt and therefore enforcement.

Defenses and exceptions

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 England and Wales), 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).
  • Marriage – in those jurisdictions where the marriageable age is less than the age of consent.
  • Rape – where someone under the age of consent detains and rapes someone over the age of consent.
  • Close-in-age – while most legislation dealing with age of consent sets a single age under which sexual relations are illegal, some jurisdictions (such as Canadamarker), have adopted close-in-age exemptions. 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, and children aged 12 and 13 may have sex with a partner who is less than two years older.

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

Discrepancies and inconsistencies

The age of consent is not always constant even within the same jurisdiction, in many countries there are a number of discrepancies. Common examples include:
  • Homosexual and heterosexual age discrepancies – some jurisdictions, such as The Bahamasmarker, Bermudamarker, Chilemarker, Gibraltarmarker, Greecemarker, Guernseymarker, Paraguaymarker and Surinamemarker, have a higher age of consent for homosexual intercourse. However, such disparities are increasingly being challenged. In Canadamarker, and the Australian state of Queenslandmarker, the age of consent for anal sex is officially higher at 18, compared with 16 for vaginal sex. In Ontariomarker and Quebecmarker provinces in Canada, this difference is declared unconstitutional by courts.
  • Gender age discrepancies – in some jurisdictions, (such as Indonesiamarker), there is different ages of consent for heterosexual sexual activity based on the gender of each person. In countries where there is a gender different for heterosexual activity usually females are lower then male for example in Indonesia males have to be of 19 years old and females 16 years old. There are also a number of jurisdictions which have this gender different generated due to the laws governing marriage, (such as Kuwaitmarker and Palestine), in these jurisdictions it is illegal to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage so the de facto age of consent is the marriageable age, in Kuwait this therefore means that girls have to be at least 15 years old and boys 17 years old.
  • Position of authority/trust – in some parts of the world, (such as England and Wales ), 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.


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

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.

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.


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 among 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:

Antarcticamarker – 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.

See also


  3. [1]
  4. [2]

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

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