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(Please note this page is about the legal term, not the scientific findings on age of consent)

In criminal law, the age of consent (AOC) is the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to any legal contract or behavior regulated by law, including sexual acts with another person. In most jurisdictions, the Age of Consent is violated when an adult has intercourse with an individual who has not reached that jurisdiction's AOC. In other jurisdictions, the AOC is a minimum age for any type of sexual conduct, and two minor participants can violate a jurisdiction's AOC. The crime and penalties for an AOC violation varies based on jurisdiction, the age of the older actor and the difference between the two actors. Charges 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.) Some jurisdictions have a second age of consent that is relevant in situations when the adult actor is in a position of authority over the minor (affecting teachers, coaches, principals, health professionals, police officers, family members.) Though some areas allow certain ages that can have sexual intercourse with someone over or under the age of consent but by only a few years (usually 3-4 years).

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 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[]

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 of outside of US, with a typical age of 14 to 18.

Sexual relations with a person under the age of consent is in general a criminal offense, with punishments ranging from token fines to life imprisonment. In the United States this offense is frequently (but often inaccurately) called statutory rape, though outside the United States other names are more commonly used (e.g. "carnal knowledge of a person under sixteen years").

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. "The Supreme Court has held that stricter rules for males do not violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution, on the theory that men lack the disincentives associated with pregnancy that women have to engage in sexual activity, and the law may thus provide men with those disincentives in the form of criminal sanctions." [1] Although this decision was highly controversial as women do not lack the same disincentives for other activities that men do such as being drafted for war as men are but still have voting rights equal to men indicating a strong gender inequality that men face in the justice system. 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 defense to having sexual relations with a person under the age of consent; however, there are some defenses: common examples include a limited mistake of age defence and a defense of similarity of age. A mistake of age defense is that the accused mistakenly believed the victim was not under the age of consent; however, where such a defense is provided, it is normally limited to apply only when the victim is above a certain age. Such a defense becomes stronger if the accused can show due diligence in determining the age of the victim.

A defense 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 defense is often marriage, for those jurisdictions where the marriageable age is less than the age of consent.


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

  • 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.)

Age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual sex[]

Frequently, jurisdictions provide differing ages of consent for heterosexual and homosexual intercourse. Most often, the age of consent for heterosexual and female homosexual intercourse is lower than the age of consent for male 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 common age of consent, though conservatives have frequently and successfully opposed this (see Sodomy law). However, the United States Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 effectively invalidated the disparity between heterosexual and homosexual ages of consent within the US.

Ages of consent in various countries[]

This table is for relative comparison of the "norm" between countries only and should not be considered authoritative. Most of the information provided is unreferenced, and much is likely to be incorrect. See detailed information for each jurisdiction below.

12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 21


South Korea


Czech Republic

Great Britain
Hong Kong
New Zealand
Puerto Rico
South Africa
United States

Northern Ireland




Age of consent in various countries:

  • Algeria: 16; same sex relationships are illegal
  • Andorra: 16
  • Antigua: 16; homosexual relationships are illegal
  • Australia:
    • Australia is a Federation of States and Territories. Australia's Constitution protects and retains certain residual powers for the States and so the Australian Federal Government (the Commonwealth) has constitutional limitations on what issues it can legislate. This means that each State has its own laws regarding AOC. However, it is worth mentioning that a 1997 Federal Government and the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruling caused each State to repeal any differences in homo/heterosexual AOC. This is due to International Affairs being a power of the Commonwealth.
    • Federal Laws (Laws that apply to all Australians): It is an offence for an Australian Citizen, Resident or Body Corporate {s50AD} while outside of Australia to have sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 16 {s50BA} or to induce a child under 16 to have sexual intercourse {s50BB}, or be somehow involved in a similar sexual act {s50BC}&{s50BD}
    • Australian Capital Territory (ACT): It is an offence to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 {s55(2)}. However the law in the ACT does permit as a defence if brought to court, an age difference of 2 years for those older than 10 years {s55(3b)}.
    • New South Wales: It is an offence to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 {s66C} or attempt such an offence {s66d}. Further it is an offence to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 if that person is under the care of the offender {s73} (Guardian, teacher and etcetera).
    • Northern Territory: It is an offence to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 {s127} or attempt such an offence {s131}. Further it is an offence to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 if that person is under the care of the offender {s128} (Guardian, teacher and etcetera).
    • Queensland (Qld.): The age of consent in Queensland is 16 and there is no close-in-age exception. It is illegal to have carnal knowledge of a person under the age of 16. "Carnal knowledge" includes all types of sexual activity. Legislation in September 2016 lowered and equalised the age of consent for anal sex to 16.
    • South Australia: It is an offence to have sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 17 {s49(3)}. However it is a defence if both parties were 16 at the time of the offence {s49(4)} or if both parties are married to one another {s49(8)}. Further it is an offence to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 if that person is under the care of the offender {s49(5)} (Guardian, teacher and etcetera).
    • Tasmania: It is an offence to have sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 17 {s13-124}. However it is a defence if no anal sex occurred and the younger person was of or above 12 years and the older was not more than 3 years their senior or, if no anal sex occured and the younger person was of or above 15 years and the older was not more than 5 years their senior {s13-124(3)}.
    • Victoria: It is an offence to take part in sexual penetration with a person under the age of 16 {s45(1)}. However it is a defence if the younger party was aged 10 or more years and the older party was not more than 2 years older {s45(4)(b)}. Further it is an offence to take part in sexual penetration with a 16 or 17 year old person if that person is under the care of the offender {s48} (Guardian, teacher and etcetera).
    • Western Australia: It is an offence to sexually penetrate a person under the age of 16 {s321}. Further it is an offence to sexually penetrate a person under the age of 18 if that person is under the care of the offender {s322} (Guardian, teacher and etcetera).
  • Belgium: 16 (possible restrictions apply under 18)
  • Brazil:
    • 18;
    • 14-17 prosecutable only after a complaint by the minor.
    • Under 14 there seems to be some confusion regarding the age below which the state may unilaterally bring charges without a complaint from the child or parent. Some sources suggest it is 12, others 10.
  • Canada: 14 (18 for anal sex between persons not married to each other 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.
    • Persons under 18 are still deemed unable to consent to sexual activity in certain contexts, such as prostitution or pornography; or with certain persons in a position of authority.
    • Sex between partners that are within two years of age of each other is always legal unless the age of consent is 18 due to one of the conditions specified above. (14 and 15 year olds are granted an exemption if their partner is less than two years younger than them, 12 and 13 year olds specifically cannot be charged with a violation of the age of consent law, and 11 year olds and under cannot be charged with a crime in Canada.)
  • China, People's Republic of: 14
    • Hong Kong S.A.R.: male homosexual 21 (and both the older AND younger partners can be prosecuted and liable to imprisonment for life) [gay sex laws recently overturned by court], lesbian 16, heterosexual 16.
  • Denmark: 15 for full consent (in regard 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).
  • Ecuador:
    • 14;
    • 18 if woman is "honest" (not a prostitute) and "seduction" or deceit is used.
  • Egypt: 18, homosexual sex is not mentioned in the law but homosexuals are prosecuted under various moral statutes
  • Finland: 16; 18 in dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)and prostitution.
  • France: 15; however sex with a minor under 18 in a dependency relationship may be 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
  • Hungary:
    • Since the 2002 decision of the Constitutional Court 14 for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships
  • Iran: extramarital sex is illegal (see: Marriageable age), note that homosexual sex may be punishable by death
  • Ireland, Republic of: 17, 15 for non-penetrative sexual contact.
    • Different sections of law, and indeed different government departments disagree on whether the age of consent is 17 or 16 or even 15, or whether or not a disparity still exists between male and female ages. The majority of sex education literature in schools, as well as the most recent act referencing the age of consent state 16, however more recent Dáil debates have put this into doubt.
  • Israel: 16, but if the female is under 16 and above 14, the age difference should not be greater than 3 years between her and her partner. 18 if dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)
  • Japan: 13 nationwide. Some prefectures have additional legislation concerning sex with children between 13 and 16 (or 18 if "insincere" relation or prostitution), making the actual age of consent vary between 13 and 16 if prostitution is excluded. Age of marriage for a female with parental approval is 16.
  • Lithuania: 14 (also for gay men and lesbians)
  • Madagascar: quite possibly 21 (heterosexual and homosexual)
  • Malaysia:
    • 18, but Muslims must also be married
    • homosexual sex is illegal (maximum 20 years' jail)
    • Anal penetration is illegal in Malaysia, regardless of age.
  • Mexico: [2]
    • 12 (Article 266 of the Penal Code)
    • 16 for prostitution (Article 201)
    • 18 if deceit is used (Article 262 of the Penal Code)
  • Morocco: 15, homosexual sex is illegal
  • Netherlands: 16 (18 if dependent relationship or prostitution)
  • New Zealand: 16 (18 if prostitution or some types of dependent relationships)
    • Although anti-pedophile laws in New Zealand (as with all other western countries) are currently severe, consensual relationship between adults and young teens are usually not prosecuted unless the parent or child complain about it.
    • Before 2005, there was never a law in New Zealand prohibiting any form of sexual relationship between women and boys. Until the Crimes Amendment Act (No.2) came into force in May 2005, the age of consent was 16 for older men and young girls, as well as for homosexual males (since legalization in 1986), but there was no age of consent where a woman was the older partner with a boy, and for Lesbian sex the age of consent was 12 if both partners were under 21 (16 if otherwise). This law was only amended recently after being in force for over 100 years. The legal loophole was identified in 2003 when a 21-year-old man faced imprisonment for sex with a 14-year-old girl, while a 21-year-old woman at the same time made her relationship with a 13-year-old boy public with the media because she knew she couldn't be charged.
    • New Zealand decriminalised prostitution in 2003 with a legal age of 18.
  • Panamá:
    • 12 if female.
    • 14 if male.
  • Paraguay:
    • 14;
    • 16 if one of them is married to another person;
    • 16 if homosexual
  • Philippines: 12 (restrictions on partners under 18 such as prostitution)
  • Portugal: heterosexual 14, homosexual 16
  • Romania: 15; 18 in dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)
  • Russia: 16
    • only a person over 18 can be charged;
    • charges are relatively low (up to 4 years of prison); this includes sexual acts (hetero and homosexual) and "obscene actions" (with even less charges) – Articles 134 and 135 of Penal Code (in Russian);
    • if the victim is proved not to understand the nature and consequences of the act (due to their age or mental abilities), it will be considered rape and charged much more severely (up to 10 years of prison, or up to 15 if victim under 14) – Articles 131 and 132 of Penal Code (in Russian);
  • 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 and punishable by death
    • See: Human rights in Saudi Arabia
  • Serbia-Montenegro:
    • Serbia: heterosexual and female homosexual 14, male homosexual 18
    • Montenegro: 14 (for all three types)
  • Singapore: 16
    • engaging sexual intercourse with a female aged under 14 is considered Statutory Rape
    • engaging sexual intercourse with a female aged under 16 is considered an offense of "carnal intercourse with an underage female" (less severe than rape but still a punishable offense)
    • homosexual sex is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, possibly for 10 years or even life
  • Spain: 13 (possible restrictions apply under 16)
  • Swaziland: heterosexual 13, homosexual acts are illegal
  • Sweden: 15; 18 in dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)
  • Switzerland: 16, under 16 legal if age difference is no more than 3 years
  • Tunisia: 20, anal intercourse between men is illegal
  • Turkey: 18; including heterosexual and homosexual relationship
  • United Kingdom: The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is the relevant law. Ages of consent are the same for heterosexuals and homosexuals, but legal treatment varies slightly between different areas of the UK.
    • England and Wales: heterosexual 16 for women. Homosexual 16 for women and men
    • Scotland: heterosexual and male homosexual 16
    • Northern Ireland: heterosexual and male homosexual 17
    • 18 years for any sexual act if there is a relationship of trust (e.g. teacher/pupil), unless they are a married couple.
    • Until 2003, there was no specific law regarding the female homosexual, though in England and Wales this has now been set at 16 years old. Although no such legislation exists for Scotland and Northern Ireland, a female under 16 is deemed incapable of consenting to any type of sexual behaviour which could be classed as sexual assault and the courts have taken this to mean that the age of consent is the same as for male homosexual acts.
    • Before 2001 the homosexual age of consent in England and Wales was 18, and before the early 1990s it was 21, the age it was set at when consensual buggery was decriminalised in the 1960s. The heterosexual age of consent was raised from 12 to 16 in the late 19th Century.
  • United States: Varies from state to state, usually 16; some states formerly forbade homosexual acts entirely, however such laws have been declared unconstitutional in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas). Lawrence also had the effect of invalidating the differences between heterosexual and homosexual age of consent laws; the general, albeit untested, consensus is that the youngest age of consent law on the books in any given state now applies regardless of sexuality.
    • Federal law forbids crossing state lines or international borders with a person who is under 18 (in an attempt to escape the state's AOC or without permission from the minor's legal guardian), or any sex with a person who is under 16 and at least 4 years younger than the perpetrator in Federal territories (18 U.S.C. 2243, 18 U.S.C. 2423). Federal and various state laws makes it is illegal to produce pornography featuring those under 18 and prosecutions have been commenced for cases where both partners are over the age of consent and under 18 years old, where they were making material solely for their own consumption or that of their lawful partner. The constitutionality of these cases is uncertain.
    • Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts [3], Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Alabama: 16
    • Illinois, Louisiana, New York: 17
    • Arizona, California, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin: 18
    • Virginia: 18, 15-17 falls under 18.2-371 contributing to the delinquency of a minor if partner is over 18, 13-14 falls under 18.2-63
    • Colorado: 15 (17 if partner 10 years older and not spouse)
    • Florida: 16 (If partner under 24), 18 (all other adult partners)
    • Idaho: 16 or 17 (if partner less than 5 years older), 18 (all other adult partners)
    • Iowa: 14 or 15 (if partner less than 5 years older), 16 (all other adult partners) State law imposes a mandatory lifetime banishment from most Iowa cities for a person who violates any state's age of consent law. Iowa's ban applies to conduct that occurs in other states regardless if it was legal in those states. Said persons would not be allowed to legally live in most Iowa cities, and would generally be restricted to rural areas. Federal courts have upheld this law, and the US Supreme Court has refused to review it.
    • Kentucky: 16 (if under 21, a person's partner can legally be no more than 5 years of age younger; i.e. 20 and 15 or 18 and 13)
    • Missouri: 14 (if partner under 21), 17 (all other adults)
    • New Hampshire: 16 RSA 632-A:4, 18 (person in position of authority RSA 632-A:6)
    • New Mexico: 13 if partner is four or less years older, 18 otherwise (NM Statute 30-9-11 Criminal sexual penetration)
    • South Carolina: 14 (Under state constitution)/16 (Under state law - appears to conflict with state constitution).
    • Texas: 14 if the other partner is within 3 years in age, otherwise 17.
    • Washington: 16 (18 if partner is at least 59 months older, OR in a significant supervisory relationship and uses that relationship to engage in sex with the minor).
    • Wyoming: 16/18 (conflicting laws appear to set two different ages of consent)
    • Military: equal to the state the base is located in; homosexuality grounds for dismissal regardless where the base is located.
  • Vietnam: 18 according to most sources

See also[]

External links[]


  1. ^  Posner, Richard, A Guide to America's Sex Laws, The University of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN 0-226-67564-5. Page 45. The case cited is Michael M. v. Superior Court, 450 U.S. 464 (1981).
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