In criminal law, the age of consent is the age at which a person is considered to be capable of giving informed consent to sexual intercourse (or other sexual acts). Not to be confused with the age of majority or age of criminal responsibility.
The age of consent varies 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.
Sexual relations with a person under the age of consent is in general a criminal offence. In the United States this offence is frequently called statutory rape, though outside the United States other names are more commonly used (e.g. "carnal knowledge of a person under sixteen years").
That the relationship was consensual is not in general a defence to having sexual relations with a person under the age of consent; however there frequently are some defences: common examples include a limited mistake of age defence, and a defence of similarity of age. A mistake of age defence is that the accused mistakenly believed the victim was not under the age of consent; however where such a defence is provided, it is normally limited to only apply when the victim is above a certain age. Such a defence becomes stronger if the accused can show due diligence in determining the age of the victim. A defence of similarity of age is that the difference in age between the accused and the victim was less than a certain number of years. Another defence is often marriage, for those jurisdictions where the marriageable age is less than the age of consent.
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 also frequently successfully opposed this (see Sodomy law).
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 on foreign territory. Such provisions have been frequently adopted to help tackle the problem of child sex tourism.
The following list of ages of consent in various countries is based on the list given on the web-site linked at the bottom of this page. In this list, gay is meant to include only male-male sex, while homosexual includes both gay and lesbian. Note that this information is not necessarily 100% accurate, and one should not risk ones liberty on a list like this.
- Australia: varies between states and territories, usually between 16 and 18, with some exceptions for younger people in some states.
- Austria: gay 18, otherwise 14
- Belgium: 16
- Brazil: 18, but 14 and older only prosecutable after complaint by child
- Canada: gay 18, otherwise 14
- China: 14
- Croatia: 14 or 18
- Finland: homosexual 18, heterosexual 16
- France: 15
- Germany: 16 if perpetrator is over 21 (only prosecuted after complaint) or a teacher, otherwise 14
- Greece: 17 for sodomy, otherwise 14
- Hong Kong: gay 21, lesbian unknown, heterosexual females 16, heterosexual males 18
- Hungary: homosexual 18, heterosexual 14
- Iceland: 14
- Ireland: 17
- Israel: 16
- Italy: 14
- Japan: 13
- Mexico: 12, but 18 under some circumstances
- Netherlands: 16, but 12 and older only prosecutable after complaint by child or parents or the "Council for the Protection of Children"
- New Zealand: 16
- Norway: 16
- Poland: 15
- Romania: homosexual illegal for all ages, heterosexual 14
- Russia: either 14 or 16
- South Africa: homosexual 19, heterosexual 16
- Spain: 13
- Sweden: 15
- Switzerland: 16
- United Kingdom: 16 in Great Britain, but 17 in Northern Ireland
- United States: varies from state to state, usually between 16 and 18; some states forbid homosexual acts entirely. A federal law forbids crossing state lines or international borders with the intent of having sex with a person who is under 16 and at least 4 years younger than the perpetrator.