Directive 2011/93 on Combating the Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children and Child Pornography defines the age of sexual consent as “the age below which, in accordance with national law, it is prohibited to engage in sexual activities with a child”.
The 2007 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention) asks States parties to set a minimum age for sexual consent, below which it is prohibited to engage in sexual activities with a child.
All countries have established a minimum age under which engaging in sexual intercourse with a child is considered a criminal offence. Roughly half of the Member States add exceptions, making intercourse lawful if the partners are of similar ages or the age difference is not higher than a certain number of years. This follows the CRC Committee’s request for States to “avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity” (General Comment No. 20).
- All Member States establish a minimum age for sexual consent. Most Member States set this between 14 and 16 years.
- The lowest minimum age is 14 years, set in seven Member States: Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Portugal. The highest is set at 18 years – in Malta.
- About half of the Member States apply different age limits to sexual acts between young persons. For example, in Cyprus and Italy, the law provides an exception for consensual sexual activities between persons if neither of them is under 13 years old and the age gap does not exceed three years. Some Member States provide higher age thresholds for sexual activity between a child and a recognised person of trust, authority or influence over the child.
Member States where the minimum age for sexual consent and the minimum age for marriage with consent by parents or a public authority differ
- In most Member States, the age for sexual consent is below the age of marriage.
- In Cyprus and Malta, the minimum age for sexual consent is above the age at which children can get married with the consent of a public authority and/or the parents. In several Member States, the lowest age is not regulated while the age for sexual consent is between 15 and 17 years.
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- There are also differences between the minimum age for sexual consent and the age at which children can access reproductive or sexual health services without parental consent, some inconsistently so. See section: Access to reproductive or sexual health services.