The words "Consent Age" formed from wooden blocks with letters.

Age Of Consent Around The World

Youth deserve protection, and in many countries, a designated 'Age of Consent' is assigned to guard children under a certain age from emotional and physical trauma. Put simply, the Age of Consent establishes when a person is legally capable of willingly participating in a sexual activity. This age can vary greatly within a country depending on the age of both persons, the relationship between both persons, the activity, and the location.

For adults in many states in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and much of the world — 18 is commonly the age at which a person is considered autonomous without any caveats. However, some countries like Sudan only require marriage between individuals (regardless of age), and one region has an Age of Consent as low as 13: Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Deservedly, if a person violates the law of a country and engages in acts with a minor, they will be held accountable by the judicial system. 

The Age Of Consent Around The World, Sorted By Age

The unrestricted Age of Consent here implies capacity for autonomy without caveats toward trusted advisors, guardians, authorities, or other minors. Conversely, an age range suggests that specific acts or gender-based restrictions are applied only to certain segments of society.

Country Marriage Necessary? Age Of Consent
Sudan Yes Marriage
Yemen Yes Puberty
Afghanistan Yes Puberty
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic* No 13
Niger No 13-21
Brazil No 14
Colombia No 14
Macao* No 14
East Timor No 14
Paraguay No 14-16
Ecuador No 14-18
Madagascar No 14-21
North Korea No 15
Cambodia No 15
Mali No 15
Laos No 15
Guinea No 15
Togo No 15
Curaçao No 15
Aruba No 15
Seychelles No 15
Comoros No 15
Syria No 15
Kuwait Yes 15-17
Iran Yes 15-18
Kiribati No 15-18
China No 16
Italy No 16
Venezuela No 16
South Africa No 16
Israel No 16
Kazakhstan No 16
Algeria No 16
New Zealand No 16
Vietnam No 16
Bangladesh No 16
Angola No 16
Cuba No 16
Belarus No 16
Azerbaijan No 16
Sri Lanka No 16
Myanmar No 16
Uzbekistan No 16
Turkmenistan No 16
Ghana No 16
Zambia No 16
Brunei Yes 16
Mozambique No 16
Senegal No 16
Zimbabwe No 16
Jamaica No 16
Namibia No 16
Chad No 16
Mauritius No 16
Mongolia No 16
Armenia No 16
Tajikistan No 16
Kyrgyzstan No 16
Kosovo No 16
Malawi No 16
Bermuda* No 16
Suriname No 16
Fiji No 16
Barbados No 16
Guyana No 16
Cape Verde No 16
Belize No 16
Saint Lucia No 16
Antigua and Barbuda No 16
Guinea-Bissau No 16
Samoa* No 16
Dominica No 16
São Tomé and Príncipe No 16
Taiwan* No 16
Papua New Guinea No 16-17
Qatar Yes 16-18
Libya Yes 16-18
Bahamas No 16-18
Australia No 16-18
Mexico No 16-18
Hong Kong* No 16-21
Benin No 16-21
United States No 16-21
Ireland No 17
Japan No 18
Germany No 18
United Kingdom No 18
France No 18
India No 18
Canada No 18
South Korea No 18
Russia No 18
Spain No 18
Indonesia No 18
Netherlands No 18
Turkey No 18
Switzerland No 18
Saudi Arabia Yes 18
Sweden No 18
Nigeria No 18
Poland No 18
Argentina No 18
Belgium No 18
Norway No 18
Austria No 18
Thailand No 18
United Arab Emirates Yes 18
Denmark No 18
Malaysia No 18
Singapore No 18
Philippines No 18
Egypt No 18
Finland No 18
Chile No 18
Pakistan Yes 18
Greece No 18
Portugal No 18
Iraq No 18
Czech Republic No 18
Peru No 18
Romania No 18
Hungary No 18
Ukraine No 18
Morocco Yes 18
Slovakia No 18
Oman Yes 18
Luxembourg No 18
Dominican Republic No 18
Kenya No 18
Guatemala No 18
Uruguay No 18
Croatia No 18
Bulgaria No 18
Ethiopia No 18
Lebanon No 18
Costa Rica No 18
Slovenia No 18
Panama No 18
Lithuania No 18
Tanzania No 18
Tunisia No 18
Serbia No 18
DR Congo No 18
Jordan No 18
Bolivia No 18
Latvia No 18
Trinidad and Tobago No 18
Uganda No 18
Estonia No 18
El Salvador No 18
Cyprus No 18
Honduras No 18
Nepal No 18
Bosnia and Herzegovina No 18
Iceland No 18
Equatorial Guinea No 18
Georgia No 18
Botswana No 18
Congo No 18
Albania No 18
Burkina Faso No 18
Nicaragua No 18
North Macedonia No 18
South Sudan No 18
Malta No 18
Haiti No 18
Moldova No 18
Rwanda No 18
Monaco No 18
Liechtenstein No 18
Mauritania No 18
Sierra Leone No 18
Montenegro No 18
Eswatini No 18
Eritrea No 18
Andorra No 18
Maldives Yes 18
Burundi No 18
Liberia No 18
Lesotho No 18
Bhutan No 18
San Marino No 18
Central African Republic No 18
Djibouti No 18
Somalia No 18
Gambia No 18
Vanuatu No 18
Tuvalu No 18
Vatican City No 18
Gaza Strip* Yes 18
West Bank* No 18
Ivory Coast No 18
Gabon No 18-21
Bahrain No 21
Cameroon No 21

*Either the location is a dependency or is not universally recognized as a sovereign country.

The Ethics of the Age of Consent

Defining Consent

For reference, between adults, consent is defined by Indiana University as a 'clear, voluntary agreement to engage in a specific sexual act at a specific time. It can be withdrawn at any time and cannot be coerced or given by someone incapacitated. Consent is not implied by silence, a previous relationship, or past sexual activity.' Regardless of circumstance, for many countries, acting without the consent of the other is punishable by law.

It is imperative to remember that, from the perspective of the law, minors are incapable of providing consent. They do not possess social or economic autonomy, nor do they possess mental faculties capable of making an informed choice. This reasoning is also fundamental to explaining why criminal records of minors are erased upon reaching adulthood. Minors are also not legally capable of consenting to military service, medical care, or contracts.

The Need For An Age Of Consent

While there are those who advocate for reducing or easing Age of Consent laws, Harvard's Petrie-Flom Center, as well as HAVOCA (Help for Adult Victims Of Child Abuse), argue in favor of rigid legislation that aims to protect minors. In essence, redefining the concept of consent to imply that minors are capable of consenting to sexual interactions would severely compromise the judicial system's primary goal of safeguarding victims. This viewpoint is anchored in the conviction that children must be categorically shielded from adult sexual advances, given the potential adverse impact on their mental and emotional health. Endorsing a lesser stance could pivot the legal system's emphasis away from victim protection and instead validate adult predatory behavior, allowing it to detrimentally affect young individuals.

Deciding On An Age Of Consent

According to an analysis published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "It is well established that the brain undergoes a 'rewiring' process that is not complete until approximately 25 years of age" (Arain et al. 449-61). When defining adulthood, legislators are forced to choose between historical precedence, social expectations, biological realities, ethical assumptions, and more. Historically, particularly in the United States, an increase in the Age of Consent occurs as a result of protest and public effort. In the late 1880s, many US states had set the age between 10 and 12, and a group of intellectuals in France actually attempted to abolish the French Age of Consent in the 1970s. All in all, deciding the Age of Consent is a crucible of politics and public opinion, which is why today, it ranges globally (unrestricted) between 13 and 21.

Circumstances That Affect The Age Of Consent

An unrestricted Age of Consent is the age at which a person is considered an adult and capable of unrestricted sexual activity. In general, there are five factors that can lead to adjustments toward the Age of Consent prior to a person reaching the unrestricted age: The age of both participants, the difference in age between the participants, the relationship between the participants, the location within a country that the activity occurs in, and the type of activity. 

Age of Both Participants and Age Difference

'Romeo and Juliet laws' are a general term in public discourse that cover both the discussion of the age of two minor participants and, more specifically, the difference in age between those two minor participants. One such law is the close-in-age exemption (the official term for a 'Romeo and Juliet' provision), which allows for activity between two persons, even if one is a minor, as long as their ages do not exceed a certain gap; three to four years is common. For example, if the unrestricted age is '18,' and there is a close-in-age exemption, a country may condone activity between a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old, despite the fact that one of the participants is under 18. It is important to remember that prosecution for minors and the mentally impaired of any age, globally, tends to operate on a 'case-by-case' basis. Therefore, if a person of fifteen years engages with a person of eleven years in a region with a three-year close-in-age exemption, it is possible for the fifteen-year-old to face penalties and prosecution. 

Relationships Of Authority

Sexual acts between two participants can be illegal depending on the nature of the relationship. If person A is in a position of authority and trust over person B, and person A abuses that position, a court may decide that the activity was not consensual even if person B is above the typical age of consent. Many countries differentiate between this 'standard' Age of Consent and another separate age of consent that allows for acts between a trusted figure and the subordinate; this separate, unrestricted age is typically two to four years higher.

The United Kingdom is an apt example regarding the legislation: under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is illegal for individuals in positions of trust to engage in sexual activity with those under their care, even if the latter is over the standard Age of Consent (16 years). If the persons under their care are above 18, the protections still may exist depending on whether the person is vulnerable to old age, illness, or disability. The law applies to various settings, such as hospitals, schools, and residential care homes, and was extended in 2022 to include those regularly involved in coaching, teaching, training, supervising, or instructing in sports and religious settings. In general, this extension is intended to target situations where a child or young person depends on the adult and is therefore vulnerable.

Note: In theory, if the unrestricted Age of Consent is 18, yet the standard Age of Consent is 16, it may be possible for a person of 16 years, wielding a position of authority, to be held responsible for engaging in acts with a person who is 17 years old and under the supervision of the 16-year-old.

Relationship Of Marriage

The second relationship that affects the Age of Consent is marriage, as many countries do not condone relations between umarried persons. One shocking example is Sudan, a country without close-in-age exemption laws. Regardless of age, Sudan permits sexual acts only between married persons. Due to this, marriage can occur between extremely young persons: for 'minors' (around the age of 10 and below), a judge must approve that the marriage benefits the minor, and for 'pubescents,' a guardian is necessary to confirm the arrangement. Regarding the prosecution against parties involved with extramarital activities, adulteries have resulted in execution by stoning in Sudan as recently as 2012, and punishments for premarital relations can result in 100 lashes. In 2015, female activists in Sudan successfully pushed forward legislation that separates rape and adultery, whereas before, victims of rape faced punishment for sex outside of marriage.


A country like the United States may have overarching federal laws, but each of its 50 states is allowed flexibility with legislation, including the Age of Consent. For example, consider the difference between Mississippi and Arkansas: Mississippi holds an unrestricted Age of Consent at 16 with no caveats regarding close-in-age exemptions or restrictions on authority figures; moreover, an accused person is not allowed to argue they were unaware of a minor's age. In Arkansas, 14 is the minimum age to consent to a person less than three years older, a 16-year-old may not engage with a trusted figure, and all activity is unrestricted at age 18. Wisconsin is similar to Mississippi but, like many other states, maintains an unrestricted age of 18. Australia and Mexico have similar systems, with varying ages depending on the state, although Mexico does not restrict authority figures.

Type Of Activity

Historically, restrictions on sexual acts, even between consenting married persons, were commonplace. Laws in the 16th century occasionally enforced chastity on women, prohibited sexual relations with slaves, or condemned 'relations with the devil,' a type of witchcraft. Today, restrictions against same-sex marriage, prostitution, public indecency, and sodomy (which refers to anal or oral intercourse) still exist in some countries. Naturally, some of those restrictions can be affected by age. For example, although Hong Kong maintains an unrestricted Age of Consent of 16, a caveat exists. An ordinance enacted in 2012 reads: "A man who commits buggery with a girl under the age of 21 shall be guilty of an offense and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life." Therefore, age and gender can be factors regarding the legality of specific acts, but it varies between countries.

Final Thoughts

All laws serve the purpose of protecting and guiding society toward civil harmony, and the Age of Consent is no different. While moral relativism can appear to be an issue in this discussion, studies have consistently shown that youth are at risk of severe physical and psychological trauma when exposed to sexual activity during adolescence.


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