The Ministry of Justice has received input from various institutions and organizations on increasing the age of consent in Estonia from the current 14, to 16, as is the case in many European countries. Additionally, some organizations and interest groups also support a maximum age gap of three years, others call for five, while the Prosecutor's Office supports a 10-year age difference, between two partners.
The recommendations follow several high-profile sex abuse cases involving minors under the law (i.e. younger than 18) who are or were at the time of the offenses 14 or over, i.e. above the age of consent, as opposed to cases of outright pedophilia, in a legal sense.
This became particularly problematic if an alleged violator was several decades older, rather than the same age or with a narrower age gap,.
The Prosecutor's Office deems it important to specify age differences. "If we were to increase the minimum limit of consensual sexual relations from 14 to 15 or 16, there will be a discrepancy, in that criminal responsibility would be taken from 14, but the allowed limit for consensual sex is 15 or 16," the prosecution wrote.
There are two main proposals for age difference clauses - either a 4-5 year difference or a 10-year difference. The prosecutor's office claims the latter as more optimal because in several cases, the social maturity and physiological development of partners has been at similar levels regardless of a 10-year age difference.
"Therefore, it would be unjustified to criminalize a relationship between a 16-year old and a 21-year old. Another well know factor is that the social maturation of girls is faster than that of boys and a five-year age difference is not enough to talk about exploitation," the Office of the Prosecutor General wrote.
The Estonian LGBT Association recommends setting the age of consent limit at 16, except in cases where partners are of comparable age and the difference is reasonable. The association would also see amendments to the Penal Code in order for the concept of rape to cover all non-consensual sexual acts. The age limit for marriage would also be set at 18, according to the LGBT Association.
Currently, a 15-year old is allowed to marry if they are given permission from their parents.
The age gap should be counted in years, months and days
The Tartu County Court also supports the idea of raising the age of consent to 16, and recommends setting the age difference at 3-4 years. The court also points out that the age gap should be taken in years, months and days, to avoid a situation where a relationship suddenly turns illegal on the birthday of one of the parties involved.
Youth associations also support raising the age of consent to 16. "Voluntary consent and comprehensive equality is central to sexual relationships. The brain is still in a developmental phase in childhood and adolescence and will achieve adult function by around the age of 25. The psychosexual development of a 14-year old is in no way comparable to that of a 25-year old, for example," the associations state in their response to the justice ministry.
The associations state that the allowed age difference should not be any greater than four years, meaning relationships between a 14-year old and an 18-year old would be allowed.
The Human Rights Center also assesses that the age of consent should be set at 16 years old as the current limit increases children's risk of sexual abuse by adults. One of the arguments provided are ages of consent from neighboring countries that have established the limit at 16, since it would also rule out sexual abuse from citizens of neighboring countries. The center proposes the age difference be imposed at five years.
The Estonian Union for Child Welfare states that the age of consent should be increased to 16. "It has been expressed by specialists that the development of a young adolescent can differ greatly physiologically and cognitively, which is why adolescents are not equally prepared to make independent decisions," the organization stated.
The child welfare union also said that he same age limit has been imposed in neighboring countries and it would also help prevent travel to Estonia for the purpose of sexually abusing children. The association also supports imposing the five-year age difference clause.
Nõmme Kalju case
As reported on ERR News, former top-flight football player Mia Belle Trisna alleges that Nõmme Kalju FC coach, Brazilian national Fredo Getulio Aurelio, had subjected her to sexual abuse over a lengthy period of time, starting in 2007 when she was 14 years old. Aurelio has stated that the relationship was consensual.
Aurelio was hit with a coaching ban after more individuals came forward. While the club denies knowledge of any incidents prior to the story coming to light, Uiboleht says it was in fact aware of at least some of the allegations, adding that a police investigation into allegations made by one individual had since been closed. Aurelio's contract with Nõmme Kalju is currently suspended.
A second case concerning a second-tier football team in the town of Elva has since come to light in the media.
The sexual abuse cases have led to a wider discussion about sexual abuse and age of consent in Estonia with Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) promising to raise the age of consent in Estonia.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste