Justice minister: Bill raising age of consent to 16 being processed

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Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform). Source: ERR

A bill which would raise the age of consent to 16 is at its consultation phase. The intention is to get the bill enshrined in law by the beginning of 2022, the justice ministry says, adding it would bring Estonia's legislation on the issue in line with that of most comparable European Union states.

The bill would contain a so-called "Romeo and Juliet" clause, referring to consensual sexual relations where both partners are below the age of consent, or thereabouts, BNS reports.

In so doing, the ministry has drawn a distinction between such dalliances and, for instance, a high profile case where a girl's football coach, a foreign national now n his sixties, recently faced allegations of engaging in coerced sexual relations with girls decades his junior.

While the coaches' initial accuser was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents (while the coach was in his mid-50s) and therefore above the age of consent, she was still a minor under Estonian law, and the age gap was considered a factor also. The coach, who was subsequently fired by the football team he worked for, Nõmme Kalju, denies that any relationships were coerced, adding that what he was accused of doing was nothing out of the ordinary in his own culture, and that the victim was trying to promote a book she had written.

The justice ministry says it expects feedback on the bill mid-month and would like it to enter into force, Riigikogu vote pending, on January 1 2022. It has sent the draft round for coordination.

Explaining the bill's rationale, justice minister Maris Lauri (Reform) said: "At this age (i.e. 14 – ed.), however, young people are often not yet mature enough to make decisions about sexual life and cannot set boundaries with, for example, a manipulative adult."

"This has been pointed out by various specialists who have communicated with the Ministry of Justice, such as gynecologists and psychologists. Raising the age limit will help ensure that children are better protected from sexual exploitation by adults," Lauri went on.

The bill's exception would permit sexual relations involving those aged 14 (ie. the current age of consent) and 15 provided the age gap was no higher than five years, i.e. the consenting partner could be no older than 19 or 20 in those two cases, and no older.

Lauri called the exemption a "Romeo and Juliet" clause, whose name presumably refers to the star-crossed lovers of the play, usually thought to have been in their mid-teens – though it is not clear if the fictional relationship was consummated prior to marriage.

As such, the bill would also raise the minimum age of marriage to 16 (from the current 15, with parental permission – ed.) to get round another potential discrepancy where individuals would be able to get married, but not consummate their marriage for around another year.

Such clauses are present in the current law of around half of EU countries, Lauri said.

Lauri said that the drafters of the bill have also canvassed young people themselves as to what they think about the issues affecting them, adding that those representatives of that age group they were asked were in favor of raising the age of consent to 16.

Most of Estonia's immediate EU neighbors have an age of consent of 16 (Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Norway) or 15 (Denmark, Sweden and Iceland).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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