Should age of Consent be Lowered (for sexual activities)?
Age of consent refers to the legal age at which an adolescent is allowed to make some important and critical decisions pertaining to their life. The age of consent is usually important because it is a means of protecting children and young adults from activities that are considered to be inappropriate or risky or such activities in any other way may render such young adults or children vulnerable. For instance, in most jurisdictions across the world, 18 is the age at which young people are allowed to drive, to have sexual intercourse or to buy and consume alcohol. Thus, in a way the legal age of consent serves as a legal threshold which marks the transition of a young person into a fully responsible and mature adult who will face full legal consequences for their action.
The age of consent has recently become an important point of moot among sociologists, criminologists and a variety of other political, legal and cultural scholars. It has been argued by some scholars that the presently recognised age of consent which is 18 or 21 years old, depending upon the national or territorial jurisdictions is an arbitrary one. In other words, the age of consent does not really correlate with the young person’s intellectual and emotional maturity. This has, arguably, led to an over-criminalization of perfectly normal behaviors. This essay will argue that the age of consent, (18) in most jurisdictions shall be lowered.
Let us consider this point of view with a very basic example. Being 15 years, old, a female high school student may wish to engage in consensual sexual activity with her 18-year-old senior at the high school. Given the fact that she has undergone (or is undergoing) puberty and is situated in social context where it’s not only natural and normal for girls of her age to explore her sexual identity but also encouraged, it would be inappropriate to criminalize her or her boyfriend’s/partner’s behavior shall they carry on with their plan to engage in the sexual activity. On the other hand, critics may argue that an 18-year-old boy had sex with an underage girl
Now (as the conventional logic dictates), one may immediately think that such law which prevents sex with someone under 18 has been put in place to protect people from taking advantage of the young person’s inexperience and immaturity (Levine). This may be true, however, in the present scenario discussed above, this law is in contravention of the common sense which allows us to consider how such a law puts a barrier to the young girl’s right basic human right to make decisions about her body. It is this understanding which has led many legal scholars towards a move for revision in the age of consent. For instance, Hamilton argues how civil law shall recognise the marriage of adolescents below the age of 18 or 21 (Hamilton).
Likewise, other legal scholars such as Janet Loveless argue that the age of consent is set in place to prevent us in areas of private morality (such as engaging in sex) and serves to regulate the activities which may be considered dangerous for the society, for instance, pornography, prostitution and buying and selling of alcohol (Loveless). Here, Loveless argues the law not only serves to protect vulnerable individuals from harm and abuse but also serves a paternalistic function. In other words, such laws as age of consent serve to enforce the mainstream codes of morality and ethics (Loveless). However, other scholars such as Waites argue that no matter how desirable and praiseworthy such goals of law might be, the ground reality is that such laws are repressive in nature (Waites). For instance, such laws do not base themselves on any rational justification for why the threshold for adulthood and full legal responsibility shall be 18? In fact, the age 18 or 21 accords more with the historical understanding of the age of responsibility in society, and the current law seems to carry forward that centuries old idea and solidify it in our present legal framework (Sampson).
In this lieu, other scholars such as Bekaert argue that the current social and cultural reality suggests that in this day and age young people are ever more aware of issues such as the nature and purpose of sexual activity. Moreover, they are also more aware of the responsibility that comes with the choices of engaging in one as compared to let’s say their preceding generations. Thus, the age of consent, she argues shall be lowered to reflect this change in our society (Bekaert). For instance, she argues how a lot of individuals (based upon her research on the youth in the United Kingdom) under the age of 18 engage in sexual activity ‘long before the legal age of consent’ (Bekaert 36). Thus, the current law has failed to achieve much practical result. Those who wish to engage in the activity already do so, albeit in a manner that their activities fall below the legal radar. Similarly, Levine argues how the law reflects the traditional, conservative Christian ideology which has for centuries promulgated that sexual activity shall be repressed and controlled, and has invoked a sense of guilt and shame about what is but a normal and natural manifestation of one’s human desires and needs.
Those religious ideas are no longer in the dominant shape they once were. Hence one may argue that since sexual activity is natural and non-deviant, the current law shall relax the age of consent and reduce it to 16. In doing so, the law can still punish offenders who rape or commit such activities by coercing victims or by taking reasonable steps in obtaining the victim’s consent. This move will also liberalize the discourse about sex and break the taboo around sexual desires and allow the young people to speak freely about their desires and activities without the fear of being shamed or punished.
Bekaert, Sarah. Adolescents and Sex: The Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People. London: Radcliffe Publishing, 2005. Print.
Hamilton, Vivian. “The age of marital capacity: reconsidering civil recognition of adolescent marriage.” Boston University law review 92.6 (2012): 1817. Print.
Levine, Judith. Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003. Print.
Loveless, Janet. Complete Criminal Law. London: Oxford University Press, 2016. Print.
Sampson, Adam. Acts of Abuse: Sex Offenders and the Criminal Justice System. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Waites, Matthew. “Regulation of sexuality: age of consent, section 28 and sex education.” Parliamentary affairs 54.3 (2001): 495. Print.