Most countries have a law stipulating the age by which a child may legally decide to engage in sexual acts. This helps to protect children against sexual exploitation by adults, but also guards against young girls being sold off in marriage.
Bear in mind that "child" means a person under the age of 18.
Also read: How to talk about sex with your kids
The age of consent for what exactly?
But for every rule, there are exceptions.
- Boys vs girls: In some countries, the age of consent differs for boys and girls. In Botswana, the age for girls is 14 for girls, 16 for boys; in the DRC and Ecuador, it's 14 for girls, 18 for boys.
- Hetero vs homosexual acts: Some countries set a higher age restriction on homosexual acts, like the Bahamas where the age of heterosexual consent is 16 but 18 for homosexual consent. In Chile, the age of consent is 14 for boys and girls and lesbians, but 18 for gay men. In many countries, homosexual sex is forbidden.
- Marriage: In a handful of countries, sex is only permitted inside marriage. The age limit varies from 21 in Bahrain, to the Maldives where it's 9 for girls but 18 for boys. Saudi Arabia is the exception with no age limit at all, although it was recently suggested it may be set at 18.
- Close-in-age exception: Some countries have a close-in-age exception, meaning that no adult may have sex with the child, but that sexual encounters with another child close in age are permissible, but only from a certain age.
Also read: A great way to teach our kids consent
The age of consent in South Africa
In South Africa, the age of consent is 16 for boys and girls, and includes same-sex sexual experiences.
- Children will not be criminally charged if they have sex if both partners are between 12 and 16 years old.
- And it’s not criminal for a child under 16 to have sex with a partner less than 2 years older.
However, our law states that no child under 12 is capable of giving consent to sex, therefore any sexual act with a girl or boy under 12 constitutes rape or sexual assault.
Source: Sections 15 and 16 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007.
The age of consent around the world
We created this map to show the minimum age of consent for girls. Because this is a rather complex issue, we've focused on the legal age for girls (generally younger than for boys), and we didn't include exceptions.
In some countries like the US and Australia, every state has its own rules – we went with the majority. For a great reference to every country's consent laws and exceptions, refer to Wikipedia's entry.
Hover with your mouse over the country to see the age, and zoom in to see the country names.
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