Trends of age of consent legislation in Europe: A comparative study of 59 jurisdictions on the European continent

Zhu Guangxing, Suzanne van der Aa

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


    Over the past few decades, many national jurisdictions on the European continent have revised their age of consent legislation. A comparison of the age of consent laws of 59 jurisdictions in 2004 and 2016 revealed three important developments to have taken place during the past 12 years. The first trend – to raise the general age of consent and abolish very low ages of consent (<14 years) – signals that nowadays much greater emphasis is placed on the protection of children against negative and premature sexual experiences. This protectionist approach, however, comes at a cost: a higher statutory age of consent can restrain children in their sexual autonomy. The second trend emerging from the comparison was the full and complete equalization of the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual relations. While in 2004, 1/3rd of the studied jurisdictions still had discriminatory provisions for homo- or heterosexual sex, all of them have now adopted laws that are neutral regarding the sexual orientation of the partners involved. The third trend is to create a higher age limit for sexual behaviors in relationships of authority or dependence. This acknowledgement of the need for increased protection of minors in relationships characterized by a power imbalance deserves following by jurisdictions that have not distinguished a different age of consent for authority relations (yet).
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)14-42
    JournalNew journal of European criminal law
    Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2017


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