The age of consent refers to the age at which a person can legally consent to having sex. Laws dictating the ages of consent mainly exist to protect children from sexual predation and exploitation.
In some African countries the age of consent is not clear and as a result many underage children could be harmed by predators. This grey area might be linked to tradition, religion or culture.
What is sexual consent?
Sexual consent means agreeing to take part in any kind of sexual activity. Consent should be given before sexual activity occurs. Any sexual activity without consent constitutes rape or sexual assault. It is important that we educate ourselves and our children on what sexual consent is.
What is the age of consent in South Africa?
In South Africa, while a child is legally defined as a person under the age of 18 years, the age of consent is 16 years, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
This, however, does come with exceptions. Firstly, if the children engaging in sexual acts together are between the ages 12 and 16, they will not be criminally charged; and it is not criminal for a child older than 12 years to have sex with a partner who is less than two years older than they are.
The law further states that no child under the age of 12 years can consent to sex. Any sexual act with a child under the age of 12 years is statutory rape or sexual assault.
Source: Sections 15 and 16 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007.
The age of consent in other African countries
The debate around the age of consent is as serious as it ever. In most African countries the age of consent is either 16 or 18 years, but the lowest is open-ended, due to marriage laws.
In Botswana, Senegal and Namibia a child can consent to sex from the age of 16 years. In countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda the age of consent is 18 years.
Due to seemingly contradictory laws in Nigeria, the age of consent is unclear but could potentially mean that a child younger than 11 years, if married, can legally have sex. This would then not only be the lowest age of consent in Africa, but also in the world. Nigeria is followed by Angola, where the age of consent is 12 years.
Some countries in Africa require people to be married before they can legally have sex. These are Libya and Sudan, both of which have conservative views on sexuality and gender.
Click here for a list of the ages of consent around the world.