- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990
- UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, 2002
- EU Council Framework Decision on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, 2003
The first of the UN conventions has, in the meantime, been ratified by almost all countries, and the second is well on its way. The relatively new EU Framework Decision, on the other hand, has come under attack for its extensive definition of childhood. However, it only follows the example of the preceding UN conventions. Indeed, all three texts define “child” as “every human being below the age of eighteen years”.
Undoubtedly, the authors of these documents were motivated by the noble wish to secure and extend important personal rights also to children. However, as many sexologists and lawyers have pointed out, in the sphere of human sexuality, it is unwise to deny such rights to adolescents “for their own good” by simply calling them children. The legal extension of childhood beyond puberty wilfully disregards the biological facts and is bound to lead to some very negative unintended consequences. Indeed, the new definition is likely to end up criminalizing vast numbers of otherwise harmless teenagers. For example, they will break the law if they take “lascivious” photos of each other or have sexual intercourse “for remuneration”, which can include the invitation to a movie (1). Moreover, the definition is in direct conflict with the criminal laws in many countries, to say nothing of current psychiatric handbooks.
As this example shows, there is no general agreement today on how to define a “child”, and there is no consensus about the sexual rights and duties of adolescents. The present inconsistent views merely reflect our society’s continuing ambivalence towards the young.
(1) Helmut Graupner JD, “The 17-Year-Old Child: An Absurdity of the Late 20th Century”,
Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, Vol. 16, Nr 2/3. To read the abstract, click here.