What is age of consent? Age of consent is the minimum age which a person is considered legally competent to consent to sexual acts. As a result, if someone older engages in sexual acts with a minor under the age of consent, then this activity may be considered statutory rape. This is because the person younger than the age of consent cannot legally say this act was consensual.
Age of consent laws vary considerably around the world, although a majority of countries require young people to be over the age of 14 before having sex. Angola and the Philippines at 12, and several other countries, including South Korea and Japan at 13 (although Japan has notoriously consent laws that vary in different parts of the country).
Additionally, a number of countries in Asia and Africa require individuals to be married before they can legally have sex. These include Libya, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, all of which are known to be highly conservative on issues around gender and sexuality. While most European countries have 16-17 as the age of consent, several other European countries, including Malta and Vatican City, also have higher than average consent laws, requiring young people to be at least 18 before legally having sex. Austria has Europe's lowest age of consent at 14 years old.
In North America, Aruba has the lowest age of consent at 15 years old, while in South America, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador all have 14 as the age of consent. In the United States, the age of consent varies from state to state, from 16 to 18. Chile, Argentina, and a number of other countries have the highest age of consents in the Americas at 18 years old.
Age of Consent in Japan
Japan has complex laws around the age of consent that vary significantly across the country. There are three primary laws that define the age of consent: the Penal Code of Japan, the Juvenile Obscene Acts and the Civil Codes. Each of these set out different definitions of when sexual activity is acceptable, with some applying to the whole of Japan and others to specific prefectures (Japan is divided into 47 administrative jurisdictions).
The Penal Code of Japan was established in 1907 and sets the age of consent at 13. Any sexual activity with a person under this age is always considered to be statutory rape and can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years. However, chapter 34 of the Children Welfare Act also forbids any act of 'fornication' with children (defined as anyone under 18 years of age).
The Juvenile Obscene Acts, which take precedence over the Penal Code, set out laws relating to the age of consent for specific prefectures. In some, sexual activity with anyone below the age of 15 is illegal, but in others the age of consent is as high as 18. In these prefectures, engaging in sexual activity with a person under the age of consent can lead to a prison sentence of up to five years, depending on the prefecture. Although rare, in some prefectures, even hugging or holding hands with someone underage can be illegal.
The Civil Codes again approach the age of consent at the prefecture level (and sometimes municipalities within a prefecture). In Japan, anyone under the age of 20 is not considered to be an adult, so parental consent plays a significant role in legal issues affecting young people under this age (for example, no one under 20 can sign a legal contract without parental consent). In relation to the age of consent, this means that, in some prefectures, it is illegal to date a person under the age of 20 without written consent from their parents. This applies regardless of the age of the partner as Japan does not have a 'close-in-age exemption' in relation to the age of consent (i.e. even if one person is 20 and the other is 19).
Additionally, some prefectures have specific laws beyond those outlined above that apply only to that prefecture. For example, Tokyo has a Youth Protection Law that makes it illegal for an adult to engage in sexual activity with anyone below the age of 17, but this only applies in Tokyo. Although the various laws regarding the age of consent in Japan can be somewhat confusing, on the whole, the regulations mean that, despite the national law putting the age of consent at 13, Japan actually has among the highest age of consent laws in the world, as the de facto age of consent is widely considered to be 18, and in some cases higher.
Age of Consent in Germany
According to the Penal Code Section 176, the age of consent in Germany is 14 years old; therefore, individuals 13 or younger in Germany are not legally able to consent to sexual activity. Such activity can result in prosecution for statutory rape and prison time ranging from 6 months to 10 years.
The age of 14 is when a child becomes a juvenile in Germany. This makes it legal, for example, for a 19-year-old to have sex with a 14- or 15-year-old. A person who is over 21 may engage in sexual activity with someone who is 14 or 15, so long as the younger individual's lack of capacity for sexual self-determination is not exploited, in which ase the younger individual would need to file a complaint against the person who is over 21 for a conviction. Lack of consent or doing so by force in any situation is illegal.
The ages of consent of 14 and 16 had been established since the Criminal Code for the Germany Empire came into force in 1872. When Germany split into West Germany and the Democratic Republic of Germany after World War II, each territory established slightly different codes concerning consent. After the reunification of Germany, the age of consent remained at 14 and code Section 182 was established in 1994, stating that it was illegal for a person 21 or older to engage in sexual acts with anyone under 16.
Age of Consent in Mexico
The age of consent in Mexico is 17 years old; therefore, individuals 16 or younger in Mexico are not legally able to consent to sexual activity. Doing so can result in prosecution for statutory rape or the equivalent depending on local law.
Each of Mexico’s 20 territories has its own age of consent laws, with minim ages of consent ranging from age 16 to age 18 years old.
Mexico does not have a close-in-age consent exemption. This means that two people both under 17 years old who willingly engage in sexual activity are both subject to be prosecuted for statutory rape. This also applies to one partner being 16 and the other 17.
Age of Consent in Korea
According to South Korea’s Criminal Act Article 305, the age of consent in South Korea is 20 years old. This is one of the oldest ages of consent in the world. Individuals who are 19 years old or under in South Korea are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and doing so could result in prosecution for statutory rape.
Previously, the age of consent in Korea was 13, one of the lowest in the world. This was controversial and resulted in complicated cases
Note: these ages are in international age, not Korean age.
Age of Consent in Canada
With the enactment of the Tackling Violent Crimes Act, the age of consent in Canada is 16 years old. The act rose the age in 2008 from 14 to 16, in part, to help deal with online predators. This was the first time the age was raised since 1892. The law applies to all forms of sexual activity
The law includes a “close-in-age” exception; therefore, 14- and 15-year-olds can legally consent to someone who is less than five years older than them and 12- and 13-year-olds can consent to a partner if the partner is less than two years older than them. There must be no relationship of authority or dependency or any exploitation of the younger person in order for the consent to be valid.
Age of Consent in Pakistan
There is no age of consent in Pakistan. All sexual activity in Pakistan is illegal until marriage. There is no age of consent between married individuals. The minimum age of marriage for men is 18 and for women, it is 16. In some instances, women are allowed to marry at 14 years old.
Consensual same-sex relations are criminalized in Pakistan.
Age of Consent in China
The age of consent in Mainland China is 14 years old. Individuals under the age of 14 are not legally able to consent to sexual activity regardless of center or sexual orientation. Failure to adhere can result in prosecution for statutory rape.
China’s two territories, Macau and Hong Kong, have their own local age of consent laws. Like China, Macau’s age of consent is 14 years old. The age of consent in Hong Kong is 16 years old.
Age of Consent in France
According to Article 227-25 of the Penal Code, the age of consent in France is 15 years old. Failure to adhere can result in prosecution for statutory rape or local equivalent, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (US$83,226).
The legislation was only recently passed in April 2018 after uproar regarding two cases of men accused of having sex with 11-year-old girls. The French government decided between setting the age to 13 or 15. All ten territories of France have also set their age of consent to 15.
Age of Consent in Russia
The age of consent in Russia is 16 years old. Individuals 15 years old or younger cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Failure to adhere can result in prosecution of statutory rape or local equivalent.
Russia’s age of consent has changed several times. The Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic (RSFSR) stated that the age of consent was when “sexual maturity” was reached. After that, it was set to 16 years old in 1996 when the Criminal Code of Russia was established, then lowered to 14 years old in 1998, and then raised again to 16 in 2003.
There is no close-in-age law in Russia. A 15-year-old cannot consent to sexual activity with another 15-year-old or a 16- or 17-year-old.
Age of Consent in Italy
The age of consent in Italy is 14 years old. Individuals who are 13 or younger are not legally permitted to consent to sexual activity. Doing so may result in prosecution for statutory rape or local equivalent. Additionally, it is illegal to perform sexual acts with an individual under 14 present to witness, even if the minor does not take part.
The age of consent rises to 16 years old when one of the partners has an influence on the other partner, such as a teacher.
Italy does have a close-in-age rule where 13-year-olds can legally consent to partners who are less than three years older.
Age of Consent in the Philippines
The age of consent in the Philippines is 12 years old, one of the youngest in the world. Sexual activity with an individual 11 or under is considered statutory rape and will result in punishment as such.
The age of consent in the Philippines stirs controversy, as many argue that an individual of this age does not have the emotional or physical maturity to make an informed decision about sex. Additionally, individuals under 18 are not allowed to access safeguards such as contraception or HIV/AIDs testing without parental consent.
Age of Consent in America
The age of consent in the United States varies from 16 to 18 years old depending on the state. Sexual activity with a partner under the age of consent in that jurisdiction is considered to be statutory rape. In some jurisdictions, it can be considered statutory rape if both partners are under the age of consent.
Thirty states have set the age of consent as 16; seven have set the age of consent as 17, and 13 have set the age of consent as 18.
Thirty states have “Romeo and Juliet” laws, or close-in-age laws, legalizing sexual activity between two partners if they are close enough to one another in age. The maximum gaps in these laws vary by state. For example, in Colorado, the age of consent is 17 years old. Fifteen- and 16-year-olds are permitted to consent to a partner who is up to 10 years older and those less than 15 can consent to a partner who is less than four years older.
Age of Consent in Australia
The age of consent in Australia varies across state and territory jurisdictions. The age of consent is 16 years old in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia. The age of consent is 17 years old in Tasmania and South Australia.
Sexually engaging with individuals less than 15 years of age can result in prosecution for statutory rape.
Several jurisdictions have close-in-age exemptions, which can either exempt qualifying couples from the age of consent laws or can be used as a legal defense in the event of prosecution.
Age of Consent in the United Kingdom
The age of consent in the United Kingdom and all 15 of its territories is 16 years old. Individuals 15 or younger are not considered legally old enough to consent to participate in sexual activity. Sexual activity engaged with an individual under 16 years old can result in prosecution for statutory rape.
The United Kingdom does not have close-in-age laws. Two individuals under the age of consent can be prosecuted for engaging in sexual activity.
Age of Consent in India
According to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, the age of consent in India is 18 years old. Individuals 17 or under cannot legally consent to sexual activity and doing so could result in prosecution for statutory rape.
In 1892, the age of consent was 10, which gradually rose over time to 18. There are arguments to have the age of consent lowered to 16 years old, as many cases of sexual assault reported to the police deal with individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 who have sex that is consensual and are reported due to the disapproval of the girl’s parents.
Age of Consent in Thailand
As specified in Article 279 of the Thai Penal Code, the age of consent in Thailand is 15 years old regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Individuals 14 years old or younger are not legally permitted to consent to sexual activity. Failure to adhere to this law can result in prosecution of statutory rape or local equivalent.
Thailand does not have a close-in-age exemption.
Age of Consent in Europe
The ages of consent in Europe vary by country and territory. All ages of consent are between 14 and 18 years old, with the majority of countries setting theirs between 14 and 16. Only three countries have ages of consent above 16: Cyprus (17), Ireland (17), and Turkey (18). Additionally, some countries have close-in-age exemptions while
One should check each country’s specific age of consent laws.
Age of Consent in Sweden
Specified by the Swedish Penal Code, Chapter 6, the age of consent in Sweden is 15 years old. Individuals who are 14 years old and younger are not legally able to consent to sexual activity. Failure to adhere to this law can result in prosecution for statutory rape or local equivalent.
Sweden has a close-in-age law that may completely exempt qualifying couples from the age of consent law or can provide a legal defense to be used in the event of prosecution.