U.N.-Backed Report Sparks Outrage for Vague Passage on Age of Consent

By Hudson Crozier

Updated April 26, 2023 to reflect statements from the United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists

What’s happening: A recent report written by the International Commission of Jurists and backed by the United Nations condemns the “overcriminalization” of certain sexual behavior around the world at the expense of “human rights.” One section about the age of consent has drawn controversy.

What it says: The report argues that sex “involving persons below” the legal age of consent in a region “may be consensual in fact, if not in law.” Nations should respect “the rights and capacity” of minors “to make decisions about engaging in consensual sexual conduct,” the report says, citing their “evolving capacities and progressive autonomy.” The document doesn’t explicitly call for the decriminalization of sex between adults and children, but it also doesn’t condemn it or endorse laws against it. The U.N. and ICJ later clarified that the passage refers to consensual sex between adolescents and that they don't support decriminalizing sex between adults and children.

Why this matters: There is already a fringe movement in academia, activism, and online circles to destigmatize pedophilia using sympathetic terms such as “minor-attracted persons.” The U.N.’s document was taken by some as a dangerous step toward the normalization of child sexual abuse.