A bill raising the age limit for sexual self-determination from 14 years to 16 while not limiting sexual relations between young people passed first reading in the Estonian parliament on Tuesday (May 11).
The bill was initiated by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) and seeks to amend the Penal Code. The purpose of the bill is to protect minors from sexual abuse, spokespeople for SDE said.
"Engagement in sexual intercourse by an adult person with a person of less than 14 years of age is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. SDE proposes to increase the age limit for sexual self-determination to 16 years except in cases where the difference in age between the adult and the minor is up to four years. The limit is also 16 years in our neighboring Finland, Latvia and Lithuania," SDE MP Heljo Pikhof said.
"Consensual and safe intimate relationships between peers should definitely not be stigmatized, however," she added.
In her address to the parliament, Pikhof said that a clinical psychologist working with children has confirmed that there are many people who are waiting for a child to reach the legal age of consent in order to be able to start coercing them into engaging in a sexual relationship.
"As young people are often incapable of rejecting inappropriate relationships, it is crucial that legal protection be created for minors aged below 16," Pikhof noted.
"All of us - legislators, the government and the society as a whole -- need to fight evil together. It appears that both the coalition and the opposition parties have reached a consensus that minors need better protection," she said.
SDE MP Riina Sikkut said that legal amendments alone were insufficient for changing attitudes.
"Thus, it is essential that sexual education be made widely available. Bystanders and those who suspect and notice something must start realizing their responsibility in protecting children. Societal attitudes must not shift responsibility to children or blame the victim," she said.
"Raising the age of consent has also been discussed in Estonia on repeated occasions and doing so is supported by child protection specialists as well as doctors and psychologists assisting victims of violence," Sikkut said.
Editor: Helen Wright