Age of consent reform

Age of consent reform

Age of consent reform refers to efforts to change age of consent laws, whether to raise or lower or abolish the age of consent, or to change the ways in which the laws are applied. Another issue has been homosexual vs. heterosexual relationships for example in the United Kingdom the heterosexual age of consent has been 16 since 1885 but the homosexual age of consent was originally set at 21 in the Sexual Offenses Act 1967 then later lowered to 18 then to 16.[1] These efforts vary greatly in intensity and popularity, and have manifested in a variety of forms, such as legislation for close-in-age exemptions to age of consent laws, advocacy to change the way age of consent laws are examined in court, to lower or increase the age limits, and increase or reduce related penalties. Some organized efforts have occurred ranging from academic discussions to political petitions and paedophile advocacy groups.


Close-in-age exemptions

In the United States, many states[2] have adopted close-in-age exemptions. These laws, known as "Romeo and Juliet laws"[2] provide that a teenager can legally have consensual sex with a 14 or 15 year-old provided that he or she is not more than a given number of years older - generally four years[2] but sometimes some other number of years (such as three years in Connecticut).[3]

Romeo and Juliet laws were passed in 2007 in Connecticut and Indiana.[3] In Indiana, a change in the law decriminalizes consensual sex between adolescents if they are found by a court to be in a "dating relationship" with an age difference of four years or less[3] and other states have adopted other reforms. Michigan passed a Romeo and Juliet Law in 2011.[4]

These reforms are not uncontroversial. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry vetoed Romeo and Juliet laws that had been passed by the legislature,[5] but signed one in 2011 to go into effect in September of that year.[5] A 2011 Romeo and Juliet bill failed to pass in the Illinois legislature.[6] In the State v. Limon case, Kansas's Romeo and Juliet law was found to be unconstitutional because it excluded same-sex sexual conduct.

Some countries other than the United States also have Romeo and Juliet laws. Ireland's 2006 law has been contested because it treats girls differently than boys.[7][8]

Initiatives to raise ages of consent

Changes Enacted into Law

There have been many initiatives to raise the age of consent. However in the Middle Ages a slightly more strict approach began and Gratian, a canon lawyer, stated that consent could not take place before 7 years of age. The English government eventually decided on age of 12 for women as their limitation.[9] Feminists in the nineteenth century began to focus on raising it to at least 16, ultimately wanting to raise it to 18. At that time the age was about 12 in most countries. Today it is usually 16 or 18. [10]

United Kingdom

Originally the age of consent in England was set at 12. However, in 1875 the Offense Against the Persons Act raised it to 13. The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 raised it to 17 [11] [12].


In Russia in 2002 the Duma raised the age of consent from 14 to 16.[13][14]


In India prior to British rule the age of sexual consent was 10 but in 1891 the British government raised it to 12. [15] In January 2004, a Division bench of the Kerala's High Court in Southern India suggested that the age of consent should be raised from 16 to 18 in that state. Justice R. Basant said he considered "illogic(al)" that a legal system in which an age of 18 is used for other purposes – like the Indian Majority Act, the Contract Act, the Juvenile Justice Act, the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the Representation of People Act – has a different approach in the case of sexual consent [16].


In the USA in the 1890s most states had an age of consent of 10-12 with Delaware setting its age of consent at 7. In 1895 it was still 7 according to a New York Times article [17]. However, feminists and children's rights activists began advocating raising the age of consent to 16 wanting to ultimately raise it to 18 and by 1920 almost all states had raised their age of consent to 16 or 18.[18].


In 2001 the legislature in Hawaii voted to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 [19].

Georgia, USA

Originally the age of sexual consent in Georgia was 14. However, in 1995 Senator Steve Langford sponsored a bill to raise it to 16 which passed 52-0 [20]. The bill did not include any close in age exemptions but it made the penalty for a person below 20 having sex with a 14 or 15 year old a misdeamnor rather than a felony.[21] In June 2005, a bill was proposed before the General Assembly of Georgia (USA) to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18.[22][23] It did not succeed.

South Carolina, USA

In South Carolina the age of consent for both sexes is 16, but an unenforced clause in the 1895 state constitution actually set the age of consent for females at 14. In 2008 a referendum to repeal this clause and thus rectify the contradiction between the state constitution and actual law and practice was placed on the ballot.[24]


In June 2006, the Canadian government proposed a bill to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 (in 1890 it was raised from 12 to 14), while creating a near-age exemption for sex between 14-15 year olds and partners up to 5 years older, and keeping an existing near-age clause for sex between 12-13 year olds and partners up to 2 years older. The initiative also maintains a temporary exception for already existing marriages of 14 and 15 year olds, but forbids new marriages like these in the future.[25] The law took effect 1 May 2008.

Initiatives to lower or abolish ages of consent

Changes enacted into law


For a period during the 1990s, the Netherlands operated what was in effect an age of consent of 12, subject to qualifications. The relevant law, passed in November, 1990, permitted sexual intercourse for young people between 12 and 16, but allowed a challenge by parents based on erosion of parental authority or child exploitation, which would be heard by a Council for the Protection of Children .[26]


The age of consent in Peru was increased from 14 to 18 in 2006 as elections approached, but in 2007, Peru's new Congress voted to return the age to 14 regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation.[27] However, after strong public opposition, this law was again repealed on June 27, 2007, by a vote of 74 to zero (22 abstentions).[28]

United Kingdom

The male homosexual age of consent in the United Kingdom was set at 21 in the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, lowered to 18 in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and then finally lowered equally to 16 in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 2000.[29]

Past proposed changes that did not succeed

The Netherlands

In 1979, the now-defunct Dutch Pacifist Socialist Party supported an unsuccessful petition to lower the age of consent to 12.[30]. (But see section on Netherlands in 'Changes enacted into law'.)


In 1977 while a reform in the French penal code was under discussion in the parliament, a petition to decriminalize of all consented relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen was sent to Parliament but did not succeed in changing the law.[31] In 1978 the petition was discussed in a broadcast by radio France Culture in the program "Dialogues", with the transcript later published under the title Sexual Morality and the Law in a book by Michel Foucault. The participants, including Foucault, play-writer/actor Jean Danet and novelist/gay activist Guy Hocquenghem had all signed the petition.

United Kingdom

According to sociologist Matthew Waites, in the 1970s, a number of grass-roots political actions took place in Britain in favor of lowering the age of consent, which he described as based on claims of children's rights, gay liberation, or as a way to avoid unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.[32]

In May 1974, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality suggested a basic age of consent of 16, but 12 "in cases where a defendant could prove the existence of meaningful consent".[33][34] In September 1974, the Sexual Law Reform Society proposed lowering the age of consent to 14, with the requirement that below the age of 18 the burden of proof that consent for sexual activities between the parties existed would be the responsibility of the older participant.[35]

In 1976, the British political pressure group Liberty published a proposal advocating reducing the age of consent laws to 10 years of age, only when both individuals are younger than 14, with a close-in-age exemption of two years if one of the involved individuals is older than 14 but younger than 16.[36] The report was signed by Harriet Harman, who later went on to become a prominent figure in government and deputy leader of the Labour Party.[37]

The modern Communist Party of Great Britain lists abolition of age-of-consent laws among its immediate demands, with the added provision that there be alternate legal methods to protect children from sexual abuse.[38]

Paedophile advocacy groups

During the late 1950s to early 1990s, several paedophile membership organisations advocated lowering or abolishing age of consent laws[39][40][41][42] to legalize sexual activities involving an adult and a child. As one of their arguments to lower or abolish the age of consent, members of paedophile advocacy groups promoted their belief that children are psychologically capable of consenting to sexual interactions with adults,[43] and they often portrayed themselves as fighting for the right of children to engage in what the activists consider to be consensual sex with adults.[42][43]

Some activists tried to link their goals with those of the early LGBT social movements, but in the course of time those movements universally rejected this linkage.[39][44][45][46] In 1994 the International Lesbian and Gay Association expelled three pedophile activist member groups: NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Association), Vereniging Martijn, and US-based Project TRUTH.[47] The age of consent reform efforts of paedophile advocacy groups such as the Danish Pedophile Association and NAMBLA did not gain any public support[39][42][44][48][49] and today those groups that have not dissolved have only minimal membership and have ceased their activities other than through a few websites.[42][49][50][51]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c "A Guide to the Romeo and Juliet Laws". Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c John Gramlich (July 16, 2007). "New laws take 'Romeo' into account". Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  4. ^ Noël McLaren (April 20, 2011). "Understanding the Romeo & Juliet Law". Upper Michigan's Source. Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Andrea Lucia (June 4, 2011). "‘Romeo And Juliet’ Law Changes Statutory Rape Definition". CBS DFW. Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  6. ^ Hannah Hess (March 3, 2011). ""Romeo and Juliet" law fails in Illinois House". STL Today. Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  7. ^ "'Romeo and Juliet' laws contested". Irish Times. Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Court urged to change 'Romeo and Juliet' laws". RTE News. April 14, 2011. Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Peter Graff (June 28–29, 2002). "Russia -- Age of Consent". Reuters (via Age of Consent). Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The Campaign to Raise the Age of Consent 1885-1914". Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000. Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^,2551818
  22. ^
  23. ^ Georgia General Assembly - HB 722
  24. ^ Yvonne Wenger (October 25, 2008). "Contradictory age of consent on ballot". The Post and Courier (Charlston). Retrieved August 23, 2011. 
  25. ^ | Age of Consent FAQ
  26. ^ Evans, David T. (1993). Sexual Citizenship: The Material Construction of Sexualities, p. 208. Routledge, London. ISBN 041505799X.
  27. ^ "Peru Lowers Age Of Consent To 14". CBS News. 22 June 2007. Retrieved 28-Jan-2010. 
  28. ^ "Pleno Reconsidero Exoneracion de Sedunda Votacion a Proyecto Sobre Libertad Sexual [House Reconsidered and Excluded Second Vote for Project on Sexual Freedom]" (in Spanish). El Heraldo. 2007-06-27. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  29. ^ "Gay consent at 16 becomes law". BBC News. November 20, 2000. Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  30. ^ Brongersma, Edward (1988). "Schutzalter 12 Jahre? - Sex mit Kindern in der niederländischen Gesetzgebung ("Age of Consent 12 years? Dutch legislation on sex with children")", in Leopardi, Angelo: Der pädosexuelle Komplex ("On the topic of pedosexuality") (in German). Frankfurt/Main, Germany: Foerster Verlag, 214. ISBN 3-922257-66-6.
  31. ^ Foucault, Michel. Politics, Philosophy, Culture –Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984. Edited by Lawrence D. Krizman. New York / London: 1988, Routledge, Pp. 272-273.
  32. ^ Waites, Matthew. The Age of Consent – Young People, Sexuality and Citizenship (2005), pp 122, 132-133, 220).
  33. ^ WAITES, Matthew (2005, op.cit., pp. 132 and 243, Note 6.6)
  34. ^ Gay News, no. 46, 9 May 1974, p.3 – 'CHE Report angers reformers'.
  35. ^ WAITES, Matthew (2005, op.cit., p.132).
  36. ^ Waites, Matthew (2005, p.135-136). The age of consent – Young people, Sexuality and Citizenship. New York/London: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-2173-4. ISBN 1-4039-2173-3.
  37. ^ Harriet Harman under attack over bid to water down child pornography law - Telegraph
  38. ^ Third programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain
  39. ^ a b c Jenkins, Philip (2006). Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America. Oxford University Press. pp. 120. ISBN 0-19-517866-1. 
  40. ^ Spiegel, Josef (2003). Sexual Abuse of Males: The Sam Model of Theory and Practice. Routledge. pp. 5, p9. ISBN 1-56032-403-1. 
  41. ^ "The Case for Abolishing the Age of Consent Laws," an editorial from NAMBLA News (1980), reproduced in We Are Everywhere: A Historical Sourcebook of Gay and Lesbian Politics. Ed. by Mark Blasius and Shane Phelan. London: Routledge, 1997. pgs. 459-67.
  42. ^ a b c d Eichewald, Kurt (August 21, 2006). "From Their Own Online World, Pedophiles Extend Their Reach". New York Times. 
  43. ^ a b Dallam, S. J. (2002). "Science or Propaganda? An examination of Rind, Tromovitch and Bauserman (1998)". Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 9 (3/4), 109-134
  44. ^ a b Jenkins, Philip (1992). Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain. Aldine Transaction. pp. 75. ISBN 0-202-30436-1. 
  45. ^ Harris Mirkin (1999). "The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality and Pedophilia". J.Homosex 37 (2). 
  46. ^ Heinze, Eric (1995). Sexual Orientation: A Human Right : An Essay on International Human Rights Law. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 150–1. ISBN 0-7923-3018-8. 
  47. ^ "ILGA’s Public Stance Against Paedophilia and Commitment to the Protection of Children". 2006. 
  48. ^ Stanton, Domna C. (1992). Discourses of Sexuality: From Aristotle to AIDS. University of Michigan Press. pp. 405. ISBN 0-472-06513-0. 
  49. ^ a b Hagan, Domna C.; Marvin B. Sussman (1988). Deviance and the family. Haworth Press. pp. 131. ISBN 0-86656-726-7. 
  50. ^ Benoit Denizet-Lewis (2001). "Boy Crazy," Boston Magazine.
  51. ^ Trembaly, Pierre. (2002) "Social interactions among paedophiles."

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