Complexity of age of consent in Asia laid bare by study

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2008, 12:00am

William Sparrow, editor-in-chief of Asian Sex Gazette and one of LoDown's journalistic heroes, recently did prodigious research into age-of-consent laws across Asia. The complexity is astounding because the age varies not only by country, but sometimes between districts in the same country. It may also differ for homosexuals and heterosexuals. The laws are also often unevenly applied.

It's not clear what prompted Sparrow to do it, though the lament and apparent sympathy he expressed for the legally ignorant clients of sex - an American friend of his almost got into trouble, for example, in Hong Kong - might somewhat explain the motive. Hong Kong's age of consent is 16. He concludes that the average age of consent across Asia is 14.5 years. More specifically, it is actually 14.7 for heterosexuals, and between 13.8 and 14.5 for homosexuals of both sexes.

The latter discounts the mostly Muslim countries where homosexuality is illegal and may be punishable by death. In many Muslim countries, the age of consent is not defined, but the partners must be married. Bahrain, Lebanon, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates do specify an age - from 15 to 18 years old - for married couples. The Philippines has the lowest age of consent in Asia at 12 years old, though Japanese law allows for consent at age 12, but only in metropolitan Tokyo. Japan's federal laws put consent at 13, but prefectural laws vary and can raise consent up to 18 years old.

In Thailand, the age is 15, but this seems to apply only to locals. In the sex trade, women must be 18 or older. In South Korea, the age for sex - homosexual or not - is 13. Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan outlaw sex among gay men, but allow lesbian sex at 16. Why? Who knows!