|Sex and the law|
(varies by jurisdiction)
|Sex offender registration|
The age of consent is the age at which a person is considered to be legally competent to consent to sexual acts. Consequently, an adult who engages in sexual activity with a person younger than the age of consent is unable to legally claim that the sexual activity was consensual, and such sexual activity may be considered child sexual abuse or statutory rape. The person below the minimum age is considered the victim, and their sex partner the offender, although some jurisdictions provide exceptions through "Romeo and Juliet laws" if one or both participants are underage, and are close in age.
The term age of consent typically does not appear in legal statutes.: 1–2 Generally, a law will establish the age below which it is illegal to engage in sexual activity with that person. It has sometimes been used with other meanings, such as the age at which a person becomes competent to consent to marriage, but consent to sexual activity is the meaning 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 18 (with the exceptions of Argentina and Niger which set the age of consent for 13, and 14 Muslim states that set the consent by marriage only). 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.
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. Many feminists and social campaigners in the 1970s have objected to the social importance of virginity, and have also attempted to change the stereotypes of female passivity and male aggression; demanding that the law protect children from exploitation regardless of their gender, rather than dealing with concerns of chastity. This has led to gender-neutral laws in many jurisdictions. On the other hand, there is an opposing view which argues that the act of vaginal intercourse is an "unequal act" for males and females, due to issues such as pregnancy, increased risk of STDs, and risk of physical injury if the girl is too young and not physically ready. In the US, in Michael M. v. Superior Ct.450 U.S. 464 (1981) it was ruled that the double standard of offering more legal protection to girls is valid because "the Equal Protection Clause does not mean that the physiological differences between men and women must be disregarded".
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 2000, in the UK, before the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, there was no statutory age of consent for lesbian sex. In New Zealand, before 2005, there were no age of consent laws dealing with women having sex with underage boys. Previously, in Fiji, male offenders of child sexual abuse could receive up to life imprisonment, whilst female offenders would receive up to seven years. Situations like these have been attributed to societal views on traditional gender roles, and to constructs of male sexuality and female sexuality; according to E Martellozzo, "[V]iewing females as perpetrators of sexual abuse goes against every stereotype that society has of women: women as mothers and caregivers and not as people who abuse and harm". Alissa Nutting argues that women are not acknowledged as perpetrators of sex crimes because society does not accept that women have an autonomous sexuality of their own.
The age at which a person can be legally married can differ from 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.
Main article: Prostitution of children
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 18. 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 18. In those states, charges such as child pornography can be used to prosecute someone having sex with a minor, who could not otherwise be prosecuted for statutory rape, provided they filmed or photographed the act.
Jailbait images can be differentiated from child pornography, as they do not feature minors before the onset of puberty, nor do they contain nudity. The images are, however, usually sexualized, often featuring tween or young teenagers in bikinis, skirts, underwear or lingerie. Whether or not these images are legal is debated. 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.
See also: Sexual intercourse § Health effects
The human immune system continues to develop after puberty. The age of exposure has an influence upon if the immune system can fend off infections in general, and this is also true in the case of some sexually transmitted diseases. 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.
Main article: Age of consent reform
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 positions such as:
If one over the age of seven takes a prepubescent wife of less than seven and transfers her to his house, such a contract gives rise to the impediment of public propriety.
آیتالله خمینی در کتاب تحریر الوسیله مینویسد که «نزدیکی با زوجه قبل از تمام شدن نُه سال جایز نیست ـ نکاحش دائمی باشد یا منقطع ـ و اما سایر لذتها مانند لمس نمودن با شهوت و بغل گرفتن و تفخیذ او (مالیدن آلت تناسلی به ران) حتی در شیرخوار مجاز است».
لا يجوز وطء الزوجة قبل إكمال تسع سنين، دوامة كان النكاح أو منقطعة، و أما سائر الاستمتاعات كاللمس بشهوة و الضم و التفخيذ فلا بأس بها حتى في الرضيع[Intercourse with a woman is not allowed unless she attains the age of nine years, regardless whether the marriage is permanent or temporary. There is, however, no objection in other enjoyments like touching lasciviously, hugging and rubbing the thighs, even with a suckling infant.]