age of consent, the age at which, according to the law, persons are bound by their words and acts. There are different ages at which one acquires legal capacity to consent to marriage, to choose a guardian, to conclude a contract, and the like. For marriage, the age may be higher for males than for females if the jurisdiction does not guarantee equal rights to men and women. Age of consent also means the age below which consent of the female to sexual intercourse is not a defense to a charge of rape. Under common law this age was 10; state statutes in the United States generally set it between 13 and 18. See also consent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.