age of consent & criminal liability


age of criminal liability
age of consent
Sex offenses by juveniles

Abstract: What is a realistic role for criminal law in the reaction to juvenile sex offenders? To answer this question we have to know what the definition is of juvenile sex offenders and whether or not every juvenile offender has criminal liability. In this regard I have examined psychological theories. It appears that there are no clear indications in any of these theories that a general minimum age exists as such that would make it pointless to prosecute an offender. Since there is no behavioral theory that indicates that the re-educational task of criminal law should be withheld from minors, I conclude that the discussion about whether there should be a minimum age with regard to criminal liability is not so useful. Important is the conclusion that the age of the offender is not a reason to withhold a criminal law reaction. Criminal law is the only just means for stipulating wrongdoing and the condemnation of sex offenders. Otherwise, the offender and his family would be encouraged in their denial and minimization. Without age restrictions with regards to the offender, the juvenile criminal court could react more effectively to concrete sexual offenses in the individual cases. Criminal law, not a civil Child Protection Act, should have an important role in giving conditions for a long term compulsory treatment for juvenile sex offenders.

I. Introduction

It is an universal principle that juvenile offenders are treated differently from adult offenders.(1) The goal for any reaction by the juvenile justice system to offenses committed by juveniles should be to ensure that there is less chance that these juveniles will re-offend. In Europe we were shocked by the incident with Jamie Bulger. This four year old English boy, was stoned to death by two boys age eight and ten. As a reaction to these kind of cruelties committed by young juvenile offenders it was reconsidered whether or not the criminal law system should have a role in the reaction to these youngsters. An important question, the question of the `age floor’ is than: “At which age a person can be held liable under criminal law for his actions? And if so what would be the appropriate reaction?”

NEWS: The two convicted murderers Jon Venables and Robert Thomson will be released from prison in February 2001. The two juveniles who killed James Bulger in 1990 are both eighteen now. The Supreme court of England considered October 26th, 2000 that de boys should be released because they have served the minimum imprisonment for this crime and prolonging of imprisonment would mean transporting the boys to an adult prison.

To discuss these questions I will give a survey of ages of criminal liability in the course of history. No age of criminal liability and responsibility -nor an age of consent- has proven to be the one and only. I will also note some facts from psychological knowledge about more effective methods of reaction. Later I will make some remarks about sex offenses in criminal law and about the impact these have on juveniles who are starting to explore their sexuality. At the end of the discussion I will take the position that the criminal law has a very important task in responding to sex offenses committed by minors.

II. The various ages of criminal liability

The age of criminal liability diverges in different places and in the course of time. In most countries the age reference date is the moment that the alleged offense was committed. In the past many different age limits have been in force. In ancient times minors where not seen as a special group of human beings and therefore treated as adults. Nevertheless, in the 5th century, youth was used as grounds for exclusion from criminal prosecution.(2) In Grotius’ time (17th century) a person was declared of age at 12 years for girls and 15 for boys. The French Code Pénal, which has had great influence on many criminal law systems in both Europe and America did not have a minimum age of criminal liability.

Nowadays three different approaches exist in the Western world. One approach is of setting a special minimum age of criminal liability & responsibility. This is what the Convention on the Rights of Children stipulates in article 40 part 3 sub a. The article requires that State Parties to the Convention establish a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law. In most societies this age is around twelve years of age. The other approach is to let criminal liability depend on the answer to the question whether the minor has acted with sufficiently intellectual and emotional maturity to understand the wrongfulness of his behaviour or not.

A number of states know absolute age-based minimums and discretionary jurisdiction for youths between certain ages, such as 7 to 13. In this age range, a youth may rely on the immaturity defense if it cannot be proven that he had sufficient mental capacity to appreciate the consequences of the act charged.(3)

From 1811 to 1886 when the Code Pénal was in force in the Netherlands, and in the period 1901 to 1965 this country did not have a minimum age.(4)From 1965 to the present the minimum age limit is set at 12 years. Special juvenile procedures and sanctions are applicable till age 18, and in exceptional circumstances age 21. In North America, the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction varies from 6 to 12, with many states setting the lowest age of criminal responsibility at 10. Canada has a minimum age of 12.(5) In some other countries there is no statutory minimum age. There it must be established in each case that the juvenile in question displayed sufficient intellectual and emotional maturity to justify a criminal conviction.

III. Upbringing and criminal liability

The discussion of having a minimum age or not and, if so, which minimum age, was concentrated on the question which reaction to wrongdoing would be the most effective for prevention of re-offending.(6) To punish is a way of upbringing so it is a choice between upbringing by the parents and upbringing by means of criminal penalty.(7) Psychologists have proved that upbringing is most effective if done by loving and caretaking parents. On the other hand, committing criminal offenses by juveniles is an indication that the upbringing has not been completely successful. Therefore it has been argued that from the moment the upbringing is influenced by people other than the parents – the moment children go to High school – it would be the most suitable time to activate criminal law enforcement if indicated. The entrance of High school, around the age of 14, is a stage of development in childhood in which the bonds with parents are loosened and as such the right moment to put more personal responsibility on the juvenile. Note that this age in general is also the start of puberty.(8)

In the Netherlands, Menke Bol studied if the assumption is correct that below a certain age children are not yet sufficiently developed to be able to bear criminal responsibility, and the principle of reproachable guilt would therefore not apply to them.(9) It appears that there are no clear indications in any of the psychological theories that a general minimum age exists as such that would make it pointless to prosecute an offender.

– In the cognitivistic approach, no specific age can be designated at which a person has reached a certain level of development such that he can be considered susceptible to criminal liability.

– The psychoanalytic theory also knows no particular age at which the transition to the next phase is necessarily completed.

– According to the social learning theory there is no specific age at which a person develops the capacity to learn.

– Nor does the personality approach give an age at which the personality is considered matured.

The author concludes that it is not possible to indicate a certain age at which people become morally sufficiently developed to be held (fully or partly) responsible for their deeds.(10) Because no chronological age can be indicated, Bol argued in 1991, it is preferable that the judge – not the legislator – determines in each individual case to what degree the suspect can be held responsible.(11) Another argument she gives for abolishing the Dutch minimum age limit (for criminal liability) is: `precisely for the instillment of a sense of guilt and responsibility, punishment itself is an indispensable instrument. It is logical and most intelligible for the person being punished, that the punishment of criminal behaviour from a young age on is applied on the basis of criminal law rather than civil law or welfare work.’(12)

IV. Conditions of the penalty

Article 37 sub c of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of her or his age. Criminal prosecution and punishment therefore do not have to be cruel; it is reasonable to respond leniently to a juvenile offender but it has to be very clear that a social norm has been violated and society does not accept this.

If we really want to take into account the needs of the minor, the penalty should have to meet some conditions.

1. The reaction should not be too mild, because if punishment begins at a very low level of intensity and gradually increases, it may evoke new criminal behaviour rather than suppress it; this is the opinion of some psychologists.(13)

2. I would like to add that dismissing the case of a first offender could evoke new criminal behaviour also.

3. It should stress the re-education of harmonious behaviour to society(rules) which, in my opinion, will include improving the level of social skills. Lack of social skills can result in loss of commitment, attachment, involvement and beliefs in society which, for the criminologist Hirschi, is the main reason individuals start offending.

4. Another condition for the penalty should be that it is implemented as soon as possible after the offense.

5. It should be a rule that it is explained why the act of the offender is wrong and why he will be punished.

6. Last but not least there should be a relation between offense and penalty. The correlation between the two should be both the severity(14) and the re-educational aspect of the penalty.

To meet the needs of these conditions, understanding of what precisely sex offenses committed by juveniles are is necessary, therefore I will concentrate my discussion on sex offenses committed by juveniles now.

V. Sex offenses committed by juveniles

In order to pursue a sound argument, it is important to know that sexual offenses in different countries are defined differently. Therefore the following is a survey of these offenses.

– In almost every country, touching the genitalia of another person for a sexual purpose is a criminal offense unless the other person freely consents.

– Sexual intercourse is everywhere a crime if one person is forced to submit.(15) In different societies there are differences about whether rape is possible within marriage.

– Sexual intercourse with a child below a certain age -(the age of consent)-, is in most jurisdictions an offense even if the child had allegedly consented to.

– In some states, there is a statutory minimum age for certain types of sexual offenses. A juvenile below a specified age is regarded as legally incapable of committing such an offense. In New York State it is always an offense, for instance, if an offender of 15 years has a consensual sexual relation with a person 13 years of age. In Canada the offender has to be at least 16 years of age at the time of acting before he or she can be charged.

– In some jurisdiction the sex of the offender also plays a role in determining whether the act is a criminal act or not. A male, regardless of his age, who is involved in consensual sexual relations with a female under a specific age commits a crime, even if the male is of the same age or younger. However it may not be an offense for a female over an age of 18 to engage in sexual relations with a male under that age.(16)

– In several American states as well as in many European countries, individuals who engage in private consensual homosexual acts are guilty of an offense.(17) In other countries such as Canada individuals under the age of 18 who have consensual anal intercourse are guilty of an offense.(18) In 1993 the European court of Human Rights decided that the existence of the prohibition of homosexuality continuously and directly affects a citizen’s private life and therefore is a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.(19)

In my opinion the sexual offenses should meet the following conditions.

1. If in a sexual contact one or more of the parties do not agree to it, it should be an offense. In that perspective, rape as described as sexual intercourse without the consent of both parties should be prohibited.

2. If there is some sort of force, threat or other clear action that stimulates a person to do something he or she would not do without these means, it should also be considered a sexual offense.

3. If two or more persons commit a consensual sexual act where every party agrees, it should be free from the threat of criminal prosecution. For decriminalization it is important to know which sexual acts are not determined as neurological illness by the DSM-IV norm.(20) Homosexuality is nowadays not determined as an illness, nor is sex between children. This means that children having consensual sexual contacts together should be accepted. If in a society homosexuality is accepted for adults it should equally apply for juveniles as well.

VI. Criminal prosecution of juvenile sex offenders?

As a community we have the task to give a framework for what acts are accepted and what individual acts – no matter what age of the offender – are unacceptable. It is in the interests of both society and the individual that each person learns as early as possible what his family, peers and other members of the community expect of him. I have said that it seems to be more effective if a caring and loving close person corrects the offender, but indeed if an individual commits an offense at least internalization of right and wrong has failed. Without wanting to blame parents there seems to have been a shortcoming in the upbringing. Let the criminal law, criminal liability and prosecution then have a role in the upbringing in societal norms.(21)

For the juvenile it is more clear that he violated an important social norm if been penalized in a criminal trial than to be punished by a civil child protection measure. The latter must not be used for something else than protecting the child against his parents. To use a child protection act to punish the juvenile offender is an abuse of that competence and would also be less educative to the minor. Treating a juvenile sex offender as a non-criminal would encourage the offender and his family in their denial and minimization of harmful sexuality.(22)

In different times and different places, more than one approach has evolved towards the question of the age of criminal liability. Very likely, one approach is no better than an other and, if so, any age limit is arbitrary. As I said before according to some psychologists it is not possible to indicate a certain age at which people become morally sufficiently developed to be held (fully or partly) responsible for their deeds. This could lead to the conclusion of abolishing the age floor. If there are nevertheless reasons to have an age under which juveniles is irrefutable presumed to lack criminal capacity that can be accepted. For me the question -What to do with the juveniles who bear criminal liability for their deeds?- is more important to be answered.

VII. Conditions for the criminal law reaction towards juvenile sex offenders

1. We should look for effective ways to distinguish between deviant sexual development and child development where they explore kinds of sexual behaviour in order to find their own harmonious sexual drive without anyone feels victimized to the act of the juvenile.

2. The juvenile sex offender has to be shown that his acts are not acceptable. Demarcation behaviour has to be done both in cases of first offending and in cases of less harmful behaviour, such as exhibitionism. I propose that it is reasonable that every child that has passed the age floor will be confronted with a criminal charge of their sexual offense.

3. After conviction the juvenile should not be sentenced to incarceration without treatment because this only strengthens the loss of commitment with society and will encourage future sexual offenses. The offender should be `punished’ by a sentence to immediately specialized compulsory (but not necessary residential) treatment.(23) In this programm there should be no taboo on talking about sex (offenses). The sanction should be focused solely on rehabilitation of the offender, and within that on diminishing the risk of recidivism. The goal is to let the offender get on control of his unacceptable urge.

4. Sex offenses are seen by most psychologists as the result of a mental illness. Although the reaction will be focused on cure or at least on improvement of controlling the urge to commit sex offenses, the result in most cases is not that the urge completely disappears. Herein I find an argument for labelling and continuing monitoring after release of treatment over a period of several years. For the more psychological distressed persons it is the only way in order to help them to avoid re-offending. This check by labelling, and registration in a legal database is in my opinion more justified within the framework of criminal law than in civil law.(24)

VIII. Conclusion

Article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a variety of dispositions shall be available such as educational and vocational training programmes and other alternatives to institutional care, to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offense. As a society, therefore, we have the obligation to give judicial acceptable compulsory treatment to sex offenders in which they can learn to avoid re-offending. It is not the severity of the punishment that gives result but the clearness of the reaction. It is reasonable that the criminal law gives a clear reaction to juveniles starting age 12 years. For these children not incarceration but help by means of compulsory treatment is important to keep them from re-offending. Below this age floor it is acceptable if the parents continue the upbringing of a juvenile who committed a sexual crime. Hopefully the parents will ask for specialized treatment of the children but it is not justified to enforce this by asking for a child protection measure. Compulsory treatment of juvenile sex offenders is in my opinion only justified if sentenced by the criminal law system.

Notes See also Boelrijk’s thesis 1997.

1. See Article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 190 nations (update 1998).

2. Lex Salica (5th century); according to this law, majority started at the age of 12, and therefore no special juvenile criminal law system was needed.

3. Bala (1993) p.27 `a number of states in the USA’.

4. 1811 -1886 Code Pénal; 1901 Dutch Criminal law (law of February, 12th, 1901, S 63) has been changed in 1965 (law of November 9th, 1961, S 402)

5. Germany: 14 years; England: 10 years; France: 13 years. In Scotland and Sweden offenders are corrected by civil law till age 15. The Rumanian Penal Code -which is a culmination of the 1910 French Penal Code and to a certain extent, the 1851 Prussian Code- has 14 years age limit. Between 14 and 16 years the condition of liability will be required, according to the Rumanian Penal Code. South Africa: under 7 years of age the child is irrefutably presumed to lack criminal capacity. Between the age of seven and fourteen, the child is refutably presumed to lack criminal capacity (see Snyman, C.R., Criminal Law (Strafreg), Durban 1982, p.168).

6. Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, One thousand juvenile delinquents, p.96: `It is obvious that some organized attempt must be made to cope with the anti-social behaviour of children as soon as it manifested itself. Treatment of offenders would be much easier, if the process began nearer the time, when misbehaviour first revealed itself.’

7. Opinions of Dutch criminal law professors, Glastra van Loon (1961): The parents should raise their children. Only if they have proven incapable of raising children and the juvenile is threatened with physical or moral ruin would child protection acts be reasonable. Hazewinkel-Suringa (1961): as early as possible a short, sharp reaction by the criminal system is best. More recently Bartels and Fokkens stated that punishment can be an element of a pedagogic approach. Bartels, J.A.C. en J.W. Fokkens, Het jeugdstrafrecht in discussie, Proces, jrg. 56, nr. 7/8, juli/augustus 1977, p.167-176, m.n. p.170.

8. Puberty -although not strictly defined by psychologists- is the period between approximately 12 and 18 years of age.

9. Bol, Menke W., Leeftijdsgrenzen in het Strafrecht, bezien vanuit de ontwikkelingspsychologie. Arnhem 1991, Gouda Quint.

10. Bol (1991) p. 146.

11. Bol (1991) p. 136.

12. Bol (1991) p. 148.

13. Bol (1991) p. 106 and 129.

14. See Bartels, Han, and Jan Watse Fokkens, Het Jeugdstrafrecht in discussie, Proces nr.2 februari 1976, p.23-34. With a reference to Denkers, F.A.C.M., Criminologie en Beleid, diss. Nijmegen 1975.

15. It is known as rape, sexual assault, and aggravated sexual assault.

16. Michael M. v. Superior Court, 450 U.S. 464 (1981).

17. Rumania appears to still have an active prosecution policy of homosexuals.

18. Bowers v. Hardwick 478 U.S. 186 (1985). In Canada a trial judge has ruled that Canada’s Charter of Rights requires that the age of consent for anal intercourse should be the same as for any other sexual act, namely 14 (R. v. C.M, 75 Canadian C.C. (3d) 556 (Ontario General Division) (1992). In former days homosexuality for minors was prohibited in the Netherlands.

19. Modinos v. Cyprus, European court of Human Rights 22 April 1993 Series A: 259.

20. American Psychiatric Association, (1994), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-IV).

21. See also Bol (1991) p.107. (A different opinion: R.W. Jongman.)

22. National Adolescent Perpetrator Network (1988), assumption 127.

23. Barbaree (1993) p. 243-263.

24. see Hazewinkel-Suringa (1936) p. 330. and (1961) p. 268, also Barbaree (1993) p. 251.

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Age of Consent in perspective of prosecution of juvenile sex offenders.

Country Male-Female Sex Male-Male Sex Female-Female Sex
Afghanistan 18/Married Illegal Illegal
Albania 14 14 14
Algeria 16 Illegal Legal
American Samoa 15? 15? 15?
Andorra 16 16 16
Angola 12/15 Illegal Illegal
Antigua and Barbuda 16 16 16
Argentina 13/16 13/16 13/16
Armenia 16 16 16
Aruba 16 16 16
Australia ACT 16 16 16
Australia NSW & Norfolk Is. 16 16 16
Australia NT 16 16 16
Australia Queensland1 16/18 18 16
Australia SA 17 17 17
Australia Tasmania 17 17 17
Australia Victoria 16 16 16
Australia WA 16 16 16
Austria2 14/16 14/16 14/16
Azerbaijan 16 16 16
Bahamas 16 18 18
Bahrain 16/Married Legal Legal
Bangladesh ? Illegal Illegal
Barbados 18 (but 16 if married) Illegal Illegal
Belarus 16/18 16 16
Belgium 16 16 16
Belize 16 Illegal Legal
Bermuda 16 18 16
Benin ? Legal Legal
Bhutan 18 Illegal Illegal
Bolivia 14f/16m(must be married) 16 16
Bosnia 16 16 16
Botswana 16f/14m Illegal Illegal
Brazil3 14/18 14/18 14/18
Brunei 16/18 Illegal Legal
Bulgaria 14 14 14
Burkina Faso 13 13 13
Burma/Myanmar 16/18 Illegal Legal
Burundi 18 Illegal Illegal
Cambodia (Kampuchea) 16 ? ?
Cambodia 16 16 16
Cameroon 21 (but 18 if married) Illegal Illegal
Canada4 16/18 18 16
Cape Verde ? Legal Legal
Cayman Islands ? ? ?
Central African Republic ? Legal Legal
Chad ? 21 21
Chile 14 18 18
China 14 14 14
China – Hong Kong 16 16 16
China – Macao 16/17 ? ?
Colombia 14 14 14
Cook Islands 16 Illegal 16
Costa Rica 18 18 18
Cote D’Ivoire 15 15? 15?
Croatia 14 14 14
Cuba 16 16 16
Cyprus 13/17 17 (Illegal in north) 17
Czech Republic 15 15 15
Democratic Republic of the Congo ? Illegal ?
Denmark5 15 15 15
Dominica 16 ? ?
Dominican Republic 18 18 18
Dutch Antilles 16 16 16
Ecuador 14 14 14
Egypt 18 Illegal 18
El Salvador 18 ? ?
Equatorial Guinea ? ? ?
Eritrea 18 Illegal Illegal
Estonia 14 14 14
Ethiopia 15 Illegal Illegal
Falkland Islands (Malvinas) 16 16 16
Faroe Islands 15 15 15
Fiji 16 16 (unofficial) 16
Finland6 16 16 16
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 16 16 16
France 15 15 15
French Guiana 15 15 15
French Polynesia (Tahiti) 16 16 16
Gabon 18 18 18
Gambia 16 Illegal ?
Georgia (country) 16 16 16
Germany7 14/16 14/16 14/16
Ghana 16 Illegal Illegal
Gibraltar 16 18 16
Greece 15 15/17 15
Greenland 15 15 15
Grenada 17 Illegal 17
Guam 16 16 16
Guadelope 15 15 15
Guatemala 18 18 18
Guernsey 16 16 16
Guinea 15 Illegal Illegal
Guyana 16 Illegal 16
Haiti 18 18 18
Honduras 14/17 14 14
Hungary 14 14 14
Iceland 15 15 15
14/16 18 18
Indonesia 16f/19m 18 18
Iran Must be married Illegal Illegal
Iraq 18 ? ?
Ireland 17 17 17
Isle of Man 16 16 16
Israel 14-16 14-16 14-16
Italy 14 14 14
Jamaica 16 Illegal 16
Japan9 13-18 13-18 13-18
Jersey 16 16 16
Jordan 16 16 16
Kazakhstan 18 ? ?
Kenya 18 Illegal 18
Kuwait Must be married? Illegal Illegal
Kyrgyzstan ? ? ?
Laos 15 ? ?
Latvia 14/16 14/16 14/16
Lebanon 15/18/Married Illegal Illegal
Lesotho ? ? ?
Liberia 16 Illegal Illegal
Liechtenstein 14 14 14
Lithuania 14 14 14
Luxembourg 16 16 16
Madagascar 21? 21 21
Mali 16 ? ?
Malta 18 18 18
Malaysia 16/Married Illegal 16
Marshall Islands 16 16 16
Martinique 15 15 15
Mauritius 15 Illegal Illegal
Mexico10 12-18 12-18 12-18
Moldova 14 14 14
Monaco 15 15 15
Mongolia 16 ? ?
Montenegro 14 14 14
Morocco 15 Illegal Illegal
Mozambique ? Illegal ?
Namibia 16 Illegal 16
Nepal 16 ? ?
Netherlands 16 16 16
Netherlands Antilles 16 16 16
New Caledonia 16 16 16
New Zealand 16 16 16
Nicaragua ? ? ?
Niger ? 21 21
Nigeria 13 Illegal Illegal
North Korea 17 17 (unofficial) 17 (unofficial)
Norway 16 16 16
Oman Must be married Illegal Illegal
Pakistan Must be married Illegal Illegal
Panama 18 18 18
Papua New Guinea11 16f/14m/Illegal Illegal 16
Paraquay12 14/16 16 16
Peru 14 14 14
Philippines 18 18 18
Poland 15 15 15
Portugal14 14/16 14/16 14/16
Puerto Rico1 14 14 14
Qatar Must be married Illegal Illegal
Reunion 16 16 16
Romania 15 15 15
Russia 16 16 16
Rwanda 18 18 18
San Marino 14/16 14/16 14/16
Saudi Arabia Must be married Illegal Illegal
Senegal ? Illegal Illegal
Serbia 14 14 14
Singapore 16 Illegal 16
Slovakia 15 15 15
Slovenia 15 15 15
Somalia ? Illegal Illegal
South Africa2 16 16 16
South Korea 13 13 13
Spain 13 13 13
Sri Lanka 16 Illegal 16
St. Kitts and Nevis 14/16 ? ?
St. Lucia 16 16 16
St. Martin ? ? ?
Sudan Must be married Illegal Illegal
Suriname 16 18 18
Sweden 15 15 15
Swaziland 18 Illegal Illegal
Switzerland 16 16 16
Syria 13/15 Illegal Illegal
Taiwan 16 16 16
Tajikistan 17 ? 17
Tanzania 18 Illegal Illegal
Thailand15 18 18 18
Togo 14 Illegal Illegal
Tonga16 16/Illegal Illegal 16
Trinidad & Tobago 16 Illegal Illegal
Tunisia 20 Illegal Illegal
Turkey 18 18 18
Turkmenistan 16 Illegal 16
Tuvalu ? Illegal ?
Uganda 18 Illegal 18
Ukraine 16 16 16
United Arab Emirates 18/Married Illegal Illegal
United Kingdom 16 16 16
Uzbekistan 16 Illegal 16
Uruguay 15 15 15
Vanuatu 16 16 16
Vatican State 12 ? ?
Venezuela 16 16 16
Vietnam 18 18 18
Western Samoa 16 Illegal Illegal
Yemen Must be married Illegal Illegal
Zambia ? Illegal ?
Zimbabwe 12/16 Illegal 12/16
USA Alabama 16 16 16
USA Alaska 16 16 16
USA Arizona 18 18 18
USA Arkansas17 14/16 14/16 14/16
USA California 18 18 18
USA Colorado17 15/17 15/17 15/17
USA Connecticut 16 16 16
USA D.C. 16 16 16
USA Delaware17 16/18 16/18 16/18
USA Florida17 16/18 16/18 16/18
USA Georgia 16 16 16
USA Hawaii 16 16 16
USA Idaho 18 18 18
USA Illinois 17 17 17
USA Indiana17 14/16 14/16 14/16
USA Iowa17 14/16 14/16 14/16
USA Kansas 16 16 16
USA Kentucky 16 16 16
USA Louisiana17 17 17 17
USA Maine 16 16 16
USA Maryland 16 16 16
USA Massachusetts 16 16 16
USA Michigan 16 16 16
USA Minnesota 16 16 16
USA Mississippi 16 16 16
USA Missouri 17 17 17
USA Montana 16 16 16
USA Nebraska 17 17 17
USA Nevada 16 18 18
USA New Hampshire 16 16 16
USA New Jersey 16 16 16
USA New Mexico 17 17 17
USA New York 17 17 17
USA North Carolina17 16 16 16
USA North Dakota 18 18 18
USA Ohio 16 16 16
USA Oklahoma 16 16 16
USA Oregon 18 18 18
USA Pennsylvania 16 16 16
USA Rhode Island 16 16 16
USA South Carolina 16 16 16
USA South Dakota 16 16 16
USA Tennessee 18 18 18
USA Texas17 17 17 17
USA Utah17 16/18 16/18 16/18
USA Vermont 16 16 16
USA Virginia 18 18 18
USA Washington17 16/18 16/18 16/18
USA West Virginia 16 16 16
USA Wisconsin 18 18 18
USA Wyoming17 16/18 16/18 16/18
USA Travelling citizens18 12/16 12/16 12/16
USA Military personnel19 16 Illegal Illegal
Average age* 16 16 16

Criminal law References

  1. Código Penal De Puerto Rico (2004)
  2. Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act(pdf) (2007)

If more than one age is given then the law within that country or state varies according to region or circumstances. In particular, some countries have regional laws that may overrule the federal law. Also in some cases the age of consent is lower when partners are of a similar age. Where the symbol ? is used, information is either incomplete or unavailable.

In some countries the age of consent is higher for those taking part in commercial sex. In many countries the age of consent is higher when one partner is in a position of trust with regard to the other, or when one partner takes advantage of the other’s immaturity. Age of consent laws often do not apply when the partners are married.

In this table, male-female sex is defined as vaginal or anal sex, and male-male sex is defined as anal sex. In some places the age of consent law applies to any sexual contact.

* The average age of consent does not include countries where it is illegal.

  1. In Queensland, the legal age of consent for anal intercourse is 18 (regardless of gender), while for vaginal intercourse it is 16.
  2. Although the Austrian age of consent is basically 14, it is illegal to have sex with someone under 16 by “exploiting their lack of maturity”.
  3. In Brazil, authorities may not choose to prosecute if the younger partner is aged 14 to 17 and does not lodge a complaint.
  4. In Canada, unmarried persons under 18 cannot legally consent to anal sex according to national law, although provincial laws may vary.
  5. In Denmark, sexual intercourse is legal from the age of 15 in most cases. An exception is when the younger partner is an adopted child, step-child, foster child or the older person is entrusted with  the education or upbringing of the younger person. In this situation, the younger partner must be over 18.
  6. In Finland, sex with someone under 16 is not deemed sexual abuse of a child if “there is no great difference in the ages or the mental and physical maturity of the persons involved.” Similarly in Norway, a prison sentence may not be imposed “if those who have committed the act of indecency are about equal in age and development.” In both countries, lesser punishments may nevertheless be imposed.
  7. In Germany, sexual intercourse is legal from the age of 14 in most cases. An exception is when the older partner is aged over 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation”, where compensation is offered, in return for sex, in which case the younger person must be aged over 18 years. In addition, it is illegal for someone aged over 21 to have sex with someone under 16 if they “exploit the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination”.
  8. India’s age of consent for heterosexual sex is 16 except in Manipur, where it is 14. If the partners are married then a lower age of consent applies (13 in Manipur and 15 elsewhere). A law banning “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” was overruled in a Delhi High Court ruling, meaning that consensual homosexual activities between adults are now legal. A full copy of the descision can be found on the Naz Foundation
  9. Although the age of sexual consent in Japan is 13 years of age, prefecture law usually overrides federal law, raising the age up to 18.
  10. In Mexico the federal law varies according to the age gap between partners and is often overruled by regional laws.
  11. In Papua New Guinea, anal sex is illegal in all cases. The age of consent for vaginal sex is 16 for females and 14 for males.
  12. Paraguay sets the age of consent at 14 within marriage and 16 outside of marriage.
  13. The age of sexual consent in the Philippines is 12 for all, but contacts with minors (under 18) are an offence if the minor consents to the act for money, gain or any other remuneration or as the result of an influence of any adult person.
  14. In Portugal it is illegal to perform a sexual act with a minor between 14 and 16 years old “by taking advantage of their inexperience”.
  15. Although Thailand’s age of consent is usually said to be 15, the laws can be interpreted to allow prosecution for sex with someone under 18. Due to this, we have stated 18 as the age of consent.
  16. Anal sex is illegal in Tonga regardless of age and gender.
  17. In some U.S. states a lower age applies when the age gap between partners is small, or when the older partner is below a certain age (usually 18 or 21).
  18. It is illegal for an American citizen or resident to have sex in another country with someone aged under 16, unless the age difference is less than 4 years, in which case the minimum age is 12.
  19. Under some circumstances it is possible for members of the U.S. military to also be charged under state laws.

Disclaimer If you know that the age of consent in your country differs from that given above, and if you can supply good references to prove it, then please contact us. This page is intended for educational purposes only and should not be used to inform personal decisions. If you are in any doubt about the age of consent law in your region then please seek expert legal advice. Contact the publisher or order your database login

Over Mr.Boelryk

Sorry I am a lawyer.
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Een reactie op age of consent & criminal liability

  1. boelryk zegt:

    South African court sentences killers of lesbian to 18 years
    Four South African men were sentenced to 18 years in prison on Wednesday February 1st, 2012 for stabbing and stoning 19-year-old lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana to death in 2006, local media reported yesterday.

    The men were found to have brutally killed Nkonyana because she was living openly as a lesbian. She died in February 2006 after being stoned, beaten and eventually stabbed to death.

    Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba were sentenced by the Khayelitsha Regional Court to 18 years in prison. Another five accused were acquitted, according to South Africa’s News24 news portal.

    The National Prosecuting Authority had asked for the men to be sentenced to at least 15 years each. “We asked the presiding officer to sentence the men to no less than 15 years in prison as they committed a heinous crime, killed a young woman because she was living openly as a lesbian, [and] never showed any remorse or accepted responsibility for what they have done,” NPA spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said.

    Activists outside the court cheered and danced when the sentence was announced via loudspeaker. They were particularly satisfied that the judge took into account the accused’s reasoning for the murder, chiefly that they were intolerant of Nkonyana’s choice to live openly as a lesbian.

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