FALSE: UN officials have called for the legalization of pedophilia

FALSE: UN officials have called for the legalization of pedophilia

28 April 2023
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In April 2023, messages circulated online that a new UN report called for the decriminalization of all forms of sexual activity, including pedophilia. Some users point to the original source of the news — a report by the International Commission of Jurists with the assistance of UNAIDS (the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

However, the content of the report is being misinterpreted in the network. It does not call for the legalization of pedophilia.

The mentioned report was published on March 8, 2023, the document examines the legal principles that can be guided by the application of international norms in the field of human rights in criminal law. In particular, approaches to laws that criminalize behavior related to sex, drug use, sexual and reproductive health, homelessness, and poverty are analyzed.

The authors of the report write that consensual sexual behavior, regardless of the type of sexual activity, sex/gender, sexual or gender identity of individuals, cannot be criminalized. They also note that the age of sexual consent should be set without discrimination, in particular, the age of consent should not be tied to a person’s sex, gender or the age of consent for marriage in a particular country.

The age of sexual consent is the age at which a person is considered capable of giving informed consent to sexual relations. In Ukraine, the age of sexual consent is 16, that is, sexual intercourse between an adult and a person under 16 is punishable by law. Around the world, the age of consent varies from 11 in Nigeria to 21 in Bahrain. In European countries, it is 14-16 years. And in some countries, such as Afghanistan or Libya, all sex outside of marriage is prohibited.

The report also comments on sexual relations involving persons who have not reached the age of consent. According to the authors, such relationships can take place by consent, despite the prohibition in the law. In such a case, the application of criminal law should reflect the rights and capacity of persons under 18 to make decisions about entering into sexual relations and their rights to be heard in matters concerning them.

The document does not call for the decriminalization of any sexual relations involving persons who cannot legally consent to sexual relations. Also, the authors do not mention pedophilia in their recommendations.

In response to the wave of disinformation, on April 20, the International Commission of Jurists published a statement on its website. The organization confirmed that it was not calling for the decriminalization of sex between children and adults or the lifting of the age of consent. The commission notes: under international law, states are obliged to protect children from all forms of violence.

In a comment to independent fact-checkers from PolitiFact, Christine Stegling, UNAIDS’ deputy executive director for policy, advocacy and knowledge branch, also confirmed that the International Commission of Jurists has not called for the legalization of pedophilia. She noted that it is inappropriate to apply criminal law to teenagers of a similar age if their sexual relations were consensual.

Some states decriminalize consensual sexual relations with persons under the age of sexual consent. Sometimes these exceptions are called “Romeo and Juliet laws” (a reference to the characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy who were of different ages). For example, the age of sexual consent in Canada is 16. Under Canadian law, a 14- or 15-year-old can consent to sex if their partner is older, but the age difference must be less than 5 years. Also, a 12- or 13-year-old person can agree to sexual relations with an older partner, while the age difference must be less than 2 years. All other sexual relations before reaching the age of consent are punishable by law.

Bridget Arimond, an American law professor, confirmed in a comment to PolitiFact that the report of the International Commission of Jurists referred to the regulation of precisely such cases when there is a sexual relationship between persons of a similar age, but at the same time, this relationship is punishable by law in certain countries or regions (in the federal countries).

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