Sex & the Law

Current NI Legislation


On the 2nd February 2009 new laws were brought in by Parliament to better protect young people from sexual abuse and exploitation.  The age of consent has changed from 17 to 16.

Consent This means freely choosing to say “yes”. A person may not have the capacity to consent because of a mental disorder or because of violence, threat of violence.

Under 13

  • The law now makes it clear that sexual activity with a child under 13 is never acceptable.
  • Regardless of the circumstances there is no recognition by the law of any consent.
  • All penetrative sex is defined as rape and carries a life sentence other offences carry a 14 year sentence.


Under 16

  • Under the new law it will be an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a young person under the age of 16 (gender neutral).
  • When the young person reaches the age of 16 their consent can legally be accepted by the other person who will then not be guilty of a criminal offence if they engage in consensual sexual activity.
  • The law is not intended to criminalized mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between 2 people of a similar age but is intended to protect young people who are vulnerable to sexual pressure from others, including from their peers.
  • It is an offence to have any sexual activity with a young person under 16.  The max penalty for those over 18 is 14 years.


Under 18

If a young person is 16 or 17 the law also protects them in certain situations for example:

  • Taking indecent photographs
  • Abuse of position of trust
  • Abuse of children through prostitution or pornography
  • Offences by family members

A young person has the right to confidential advice and information even if they are under the legal age of consent from their Doctor, Family Planning Clinic, or Young Persons Clinic.


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