The law should state an age below which children are not deemed capable of sexual consent. But the aim of a minimum legal age should be purely protective; it should not aim to control or criminalise children’s sexuality.
The legality of consensual sex between children should depend on the relative ages of those involved (allowing close-in-age exemptions), the power dynamics, and the kind of sexual activity prohibited. Moreover, sex education for children is vital for ensuring relationships based on respect and consent. And access to sexual and reproductive health advice, which is appropriate to a child’s age and circumstances, should be available to all children.
The enforcement of sexual consent laws should not run counter to children's rights, for instance, by denying their evolving capacities, establishing different ages of consent according to gender or sexuality, or applying the law inconsistently, for example with a racial or gender bias.
Read more on page 19 of our discussion paper Age is Arbitrary: Discussion paper on setting minimum ages.
Campaigns and resources
CRIN case study: Children no longer prosecuted for kissing or consensual sex
“The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US”, Human Rights Watch
“Qualitative research on legal barriers to young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services,” International Planned Parenthood Association