Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel Smalley: Should NZ lower the age of consent?

Image / iStock
Image / iStock

In New Zealand, the legal age of consent for sex is 16. But is that the right age, or should it be lowered?

I want to use the Opotiki underage sex case that's just been through the courts as an example. The teenagers were aged 17 and 18 at the time of the offending, and they had sex with girls they went to school with who were younger than them.

The girls said it was consensual. They willingly had sex, but they were underage so the five men pleaded guilty. The judge then discharged them without conviction and fined them $500 for emotional harm.

And one of the girls read a victim impact statement to the court defending the man she had sex with, describing him as a gentle giant with a kind heart and a wicked sense of humour.

She said: "He never forced me. Never tried to make me do anything I didn't want to do." She was clearly very distressed that he ended up in court charged with underage sex.

I question whether 16 should still be the legal age.

Given that our diets are better and our lifestyles have improved, our children now go through puberty at a much earlier age than what we did before.

If you look at some of the European countries - Germany, Italy, and Austria for example - the legal age of consent in those countries is 14. Fourteen years old. If you live in Berlin, Vienna, or Rome, you're good to go (legally) from the age of 14.

Although not if you live in the Vatican. The Vatican age of consent is 18. But God's watching over you there.

In the UK, it's 16. In Ireland, it's 17. In France, it's 15. You have to be 18 to smoke in France, but at 15-years-old you can share the love. But if you hopped across the channel to London, you'd be breaking the law.

And so I wonder whether we need to revisit the age of consent in this country, because I think we're going to have more and more cases like we've just seen in Opotiki going through the courts. Sexually active 15-year-olds who have sex with someone who's 16 or 17 - and then the older person is facing a charge of underage sex.

If you're a parent, it's not necessarily something you probably want to think about. Well, not until your son or daughter perhaps lands in court.

But it's a valid question - should the age of consent remain at 16, or be lowered?

Debate on this article is now closed.


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Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel’s career in journalism is extensive. She has reported from Europe, Africa, Asia and America, covering elections in Britain, the United States, France and New Zealand. She joined Newstalk ZB as host of KPMG Early Edition in 2013 and also works on TVNZ’s Sunday and Q&A current affairs programmes.

Read more by Rachel Smalley

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