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The age of consent in the past and present.

November 2, 2015 · 

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The age of consent in the past and present.
Fr.Shay Cullen

It has taken centuries to implement the right to childhood for
children from the Gospel condemnation of child abuse by Jesus of Nazareth

Matthew 18:1 to 8. His uplifting of their rights and dignity a level as his own has been generally ignored since the beginning of Christianity. It is only in the modern era when the convention on the rights of the child and national legislation has made it a crime to sexually touch a child until a certain age.Only then in the rare occasion when it can be proved the child was free from all inducements ,force, grooming, fraudulent influence and ascendancy or anything that would take away from the free choice of the minor . For free choice to be valid full knowledge of the acts and the consequences must be clearly known by the child. In the past there was no protection and adults could do what they liked with the children until there was a spiritual and social awaking and a movement for reform.

Since consent cannot be given freely by a child or teenager especially when an older person is having ascendancy over the child it is considered a crime of child sexual abuse by most laws. Here is the history showing that the age of consent was once as low as ten year of age according to this in Wikipedia below . (Age of Consent)

Reforms in the 19th and 20th century

A general great shift in social and legal attitudes toward issues of sex took place in the modern era and beliefs on the appropriate age below which girls should not be permitted to engage in sexual activity drifted toward adulthood. While ages from 10 to 13 were typically regarded as acceptable ages for sexual consent in Western countries during the mid-19th century, by the end of the 19th century changing attitudes towards sexuality and childhood resulted in the raising of the age of consent.

Several articles written by investigative journalist William Thomas Stead in the late 19th century on the issue of child prostitution in London led to public outrage and ultimately to the raising of the age of consent to 16.

The English common law had traditionally set the age of consent within the range of 10 to 12, but in 1875 the age was raised to 13. After intense sensational media revelations about the scourge of under-age prostitution in London in the 1880s caused respectable middle-class outrage, the age of consent was raised to 16 in 1885. Early feminists of the Social Purity movement such as Josephine Butler and others, instrumental in securing the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, began to turn towards the problem of child prostitution by the end of the 1870s.

The investigative journalist William Thomas Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette was pivotal in exposing the problem of child prostitution in the London underworld through a publicity stunt. In 1885 he “purchased” one victim, Eliza Armstrong the 13-year-old daughter of a chimney sweep, for £5 and took her to a brothel where she was drugged. He then published a series of four exposés entitled The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, which shocked its readers with tales of child prostitution and the abduction, procurement and sale of young English virgins to Continental “pleasure palaces”. The “Maiden Tribute” was an instant hit with the public. Victorian society was thrown into an uproar about prostitution. Fearing riots on a national scale, the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt pleaded in vain with Stead to cease publication of the articles. A wide variety of reform groups held protest meetings and marched together to Hyde Park demanding that the age of consent be raised. The government was forced to pass the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 that raised the age of consent to 16 and clamped down on prostitution.

In the United States, as late as the 1880’s most States set the minimum age at 10–12, (in Delaware it was 7 in 1895). Inspired by the “Maiden Tribute” female reformers in the US initiated their own campaign which petitioned legislators to raise the legal minimum age to at least 16, with the ultimate goal to raise the age to 18. The campaign was successful, with almost all states raising the minimum age to 16–18 years by 1920.

In France, Portugal, Denmark and the Swiss cantons and other countries, the minimum age was raised to between 13 and 16 years in the following decades. Though the original arguments for raising the age of consent were based on morality, since then the raison d’être of the laws has changed to child welfare and a so-called right to childhood or innocence.

In France, under the Napoleonic Code the age of consent was set in 1832 at 11, and was raised to 13 in 1863. It was increased to 15 in 1945.

In Spain, it was set in 1822 at “puberty age”, and changed to 12 in 1870, which was kept until 1999, when it became 13; and in 2015 it was raised to 16.

21st century and present day situation

In the 21st century, concerns about child sex tourism and commercial sexual exploitation of children gained international prominence, and have resulted in legislative changes in several jurisdictions, as well as in the adoption of several international instruments.

The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote, 25 October 2007), and the European Union’s Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography were adopted.

The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography came into force in 2002.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which came into force in 2003, prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (which came into force in 2008) also deals with commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Several Western countries have raised their ages of consent recently. These include Canada (in 2008 – from 14 to 16); and in Europe, Iceland (in 2007 – from 14 to 15), Lithuania (in 2010 – from 14 to 16), Croatia (in 2013 – from 14 to 15), and Spain (in 2015 – from 13 to 16).

The International Criminal Court Statute does not provide a specific age of consent in its rape/sexual violence statute, but makes reference to sexual acts committed against persons “incapable of giving genuine consent”; and the explicative footnote states, “It is understood that a person may be incapable of giving genuine consent if affected by natural, induced or age-related incapacity.

shaycullen@preda.org

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