The term age of consent rarely appears in legal statutes. It has sometimes been used with other meanings, such as the age at which a person becomes competent to consent to marriage ,  but the meaning given above is the one now generally understood. It should not be confused with other laws regarding age minimums including, but not limited to, the age of majority , age of criminal responsibility , voting age , drinking age , and driving age.
Age of consent laws vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,  though most jurisdictions set the age of consent in the range 14 to The laws may also vary by the type of sexual act, the gender of the participants or other considerations, such as involving 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 and penalties resulting from a breach of these laws may range from a misdemeanor , such as corruption of a minor , to what is popularly called statutory rape. 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.
In traditional societies, the age of consent for a sexual union was a matter for the family to decide, or a tribal custom. In most cases, this coincided with signs of puberty , menstruation for a woman, and pubic hair for a man. Reliable data for ages at marriage is scarce.
Age of consent - Wikipedia
In England, for example, the only reliable data in the early modern period comes from property records made after death. Not only were the records relatively rare, but not all bothered to record the participants' ages, and it seems that the more complete the records are, the more likely they are to reveal young marriages. Modern historians have sometimes shown reluctance to accept evidence of young ages of marriage, dismissing it as a 'misreading' by a later copier of the records.
In the 12th century, Gratian , the influential founder of canon law in medieval Europe, accepted the age of puberty for marriage to be around twelve for girls and around fourteen for boys but acknowledged consent to be meaningful if both children were older than seven years of age. Marriage would then be valid as long as neither of the two parties annulled the marital agreement before reaching puberty, or if they had already consummated the marriage.
The first recorded age-of-consent law dates from in England; as part of its provisions on rape, the Statute of Westminster made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age," whether with or without her consent. The phrase "within age" was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke England, 17th century as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was twelve years of age. The American colonies followed the English tradition, and the law was more of a guide. In the 16th century, a small number of Italian and German states set the minimum age for sexual intercourse for girls, setting it at twelve years.
Towards the end of the 18th century, other European countries also began to enact similar laws. The first French Constitution of established the minimum age at eleven years. Portugal, Spain, Denmark and the Swiss cantons initially set the minimum age at ten to twelve years. Age of consent laws were, historically, difficult to follow and enforce: In Christian societies, sex outside marriage was forbidden. Older children were themselves often punished for being complicit in sexual interaction with an adult.
By the midth century there was increased concern over child sexual abuse. A general shift in social and legal attitudes toward issues of sex occurred during the modern era. Attitudes on the appropriate age of permission for females to engage in sexual activity drifted toward adulthood.
While ages from ten to thirteen years were typically regarded as acceptable ages for sexual consent in Western countries during the midth century,  by the end of the 19th century changing attitudes towards sexuality and childhood resulted in the raising of the age of consent. English common law had traditionally set the age of consent within the range of ten to twelve years old, but the Offences Against the Person Act raised this to thirteen in Great Britain and Ireland. Early feminists of the Social Purity movement , such as Josephine Butler and others, instrumental in securing the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts , began to turn towards the problem of child prostitution by the end of the s.
Sensational media revelations about the scourge of child prostitution in London in the s then caused outrage among the respectable middle-classes, leading to pressure for the age of consent to be raised again. The investigative journalist William Thomas Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette was pivotal in exposing the problem of child prostitution in the London underworld through a publicity stunt.
In he "purchased" one victim, Eliza Armstrong , the thirteen-year-old daughter of a chimney sweep , for five pounds and took her to a brothel where she was drugged. The "Maiden Tribute" was an instant sensation with the reading public, and Victorian society was thrown into an uproar about prostitution. Fearing riots on a national scale, the Home Secretary , Sir William Harcourt , pleaded in vain with Stead to cease publication of the articles.
A wide variety of reform groups held protest meetings and marched together to Hyde Park demanding that the age of consent be raised. The government was forced to propose the Criminal Law Amendment Act , which raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen and clamped down on prostitution. In the United States, as late as the s most states set the minimum age at ten to twelve in Delaware, it was seven in The campaign was successful, with almost all states raising the minimum age to sixteen to eighteen years by In France , Portugal, Denmark, the Swiss cantons and other countries, the minimum age was raised to between thirteen and sixteen years in the following decades.
In France, under the Napoleonic Code , the age of consent was set in at eleven,  and was raised to thirteen in In Spain , it was set in at "puberty age", and changed to twelve in ,  which was kept until , when it became 13;   and in it was raised to In the 21st century, concerns about child sex tourism and commercial sexual exploitation of children gained international prominence, and have resulted in legislative changes in several jurisdictions, as well as in the adoption of several international instruments.
The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children , which came into force in , prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children.
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The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings which came into force in also deals with commercial sexual exploitation of children. Several Western countries have raised their ages of consent recently. These include Canada in —from 14 to 16 ; and in Europe, Iceland in —from 14 to 15 , Lithuania in —from 14 to 16 , Croatia in —from 14 to 15 , and Spain in —from 13 to Sexual relations with a person under the age of consent is a crime in most countries, exceptions to this include, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
Jurisdictions use a variety of terms for the offense, including child sexual abuse , statutory rape , illegal carnal knowledge , corruption of a minor ,  besides others. The enforcement practices of age-of-consent laws 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 power over the minor e.
The sex of each participant can also influence perceptions of an individual's guilt and therefore enforcement. The threshold age for engaging in sexual activity varies between jurisdictions see above. Most jurisdictions have set a fixed age of consent. Ages can also vary based on the type of calendar used, such as the Lunar calendar ,  how birth dates in leap years are handled, or even the method by which birth date is calculated.
The age of consent is a legal barrier to the minor's ability to consent and therefore obtaining consent is not in general a defense to having sexual relations with a person under the prescribed age, for example:. A growing number of countries have specific extraterritorial legislation that prosecutes their citizens in their homeland should they engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with children.
This applies in cases where any of the partners travels into or out of the United States, or from one state into another, for the purpose of an illegal sexual encounter. There is debate as to whether the gender of those involved should lead to different treatment of the sexual encounter, in law or in practice. Traditionally, age of consent laws regarding vaginal intercourse were often meant to protect the chastity of unmarried girls. This has led to gender-neutral laws in many jurisdictions.
In the US, in Michael M. Traditionally, many age of consent laws dealt primarily with men engaging in sexual acts with underage girls and boys the latter acts often falling under sodomy and buggery laws. This means that in some legal systems, issues of women having sexual contact with underage partners were rarely acknowledged.
For example, until , in the UK, before the Sexual Offences Amendment Act , there was no statutory age of consent for lesbian sex. The age at which a person can be legally married can differ from the age of consent.
What Is the Age of Consent?
In jurisdictions where the marriageable age is lower than the age of consent, those laws usually override the age of consent laws in the case of a married couple where one or both partners are below the age of consent. Some jurisdictions prohibit all sex outside of marriage irrespective of age, as in the case of Yemen. In many countries, there are specific laws dealing with child prostitution.
In some countries, states, or other jurisdictions, the age of consent may be lower than the age at which a person can appear in pornographic images and films. In many jurisdictions, the minimum age for participation and even viewing such material is As such, in some jurisdictions, films and images showing individuals under the age of 18, but above the age of consent, that meet the legal definition of child pornography are prohibited despite the fact that the sexual acts depicted are legal to engage in otherwise under that jurisdiction's age of consent laws.
In those cases, it is only the filming of the sex act that is the crime as the act itself would not be considered a sex crime. For example, in the United States under federal law it is a crime to film minors below 18 in sexual acts, even in states where the age of consent is below Jailbait images can be differentiated from child pornography , as they do not feature minors before the onset of puberty, nor do they contain nudity.
When questioned regarding their legality legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin stated he thought it was not illegal, though legal expert Sunny Hostin was more skeptical, describing jailbait images as "borderline" child pornography which may be illegal. The human immune system continues to develop after puberty. For example, a risk factor for HPV strains causing genital warts is sexual debut at a young age;  if this extends to the cancer causing strains, then sexual debut at a young age would potentially also increase risk of persistence of HPV infections that cause the very HPV induced cancers that are being diagnosed in spiking numbers of relatively young people.
Age-of-consent reform refers to the efforts of some individuals or groups, for different reasons, to alter or abolish age-of-consent laws. These efforts advocate five main positions:. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Age of consent disambiguation.
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Legal Ages of Consent By Country
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