Centre’s response to the minister – the age limit for sexual self-determination must be raised to 16

Giving an opinion on the age limit debate

Dear Minister of Justice Maris Lauri

April 16, 2021

Thank you for asking the Estonian Human Rights Center for an opinion. This is an extremely complex issue concerning human dignity, and we welcome the initiation of the debate. At the same time, we emphasise that investing only in changing the law does not lead to the expected results, even in the case of changing the age limit. This is the first step, but the prevention of abuse requires a multifaceted approach and well-thought-out information, counselling, and sex education for different groups in society.

1.1 Changing the age limit for sexual self-determination
  • The Estonian Human Rights Centre considers it necessary to raise the age limit for sexual self-determination to 16 years of age.

The lowest age limit for sexual self-determination among European Union countries is 14 years. This age limit is established in seven Member States: Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Portugal. In most Member States the age limit is 15–16 years and in Estonia’s neighbouring countries the age limit is 16. We believe that the age limit in countries of the same region should be similar to each other in order to prevent, for example, sexual abuse of children by citizens of neighbouring countries.

We must recall that it is the responsibility of the state to do everything possible to protect vulnerable groups, including children. Therefore we support the view taken by both the Equal Treatment Network and the Sexual Health Association that the age limit of 14 is too low and increases the risk of sexual abuse of children by adults.

2.2 Exceptional age gap in the relationship between minors and young adults
  • From the proposed options, the Estonian Human Rights Centre supports that by raising the age limit to 16 years of age, a consensual relationship would be allowed for an age difference of up to five years.

We believe that punishing sexual intercourse between young adults is not justified and would run counter to modern views of sexual self-determination. Therefore, exceptions should be introduced when raising the age limit for young people’s sexual self-determination. As an exception, age limits of 16 and 21 years, which are already established in society, should be taken into account.

3.1 Changing the current level of comprehension
  • The Estonian Human Rights Centre is of the opinion that in the case of sexual crimes, the current age limit of comprehension must be changed to the age of 12.

Young people are being prepared to start having sex close to the age of 12, both in terms of education and health. For example, according to the EHIF, preventive vaccination against cervical cancer is given to 12-year-old girls. By that time, children’s awareness of the topic will also be increased, as sex-ed lessons have been added to their curriculum.

3.2 Criminal law regulation of sexual relations between 10–17-year-olds
  • The Estonian Human Rights Centre is of the opinion that the comprehension age must be raised to 12 years of age. The Centre does not support the criminal law regulation of consensual sexual relations between the ages of 12 and 17.

Young people must retain their freedom of sexual self-determination and over-regulation is not necessary – it would infringe on children’s rights. We support the position of the Estonian Union for Child Welfare that in the case of relations between minors if the person is under 14 years of age, the child should be recognized and counseled.

Egert Rünne
Executive Director

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