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Not only were the records relatively rare, but not all bothered to record the participants' ages, and it seems that the more complete the records are, the more likely they are to reveal young marriages.Modern historians have sometimes shown reluctance to accept evidence of young ages of marriage, dismissing it as a 'misreading' by a later copier of the records.Age of consent laws were, historically, difficult to follow and enforce: legal norms based on age were not, in general, common until the 19th century, because clear proof of exact age and precise date of birth were often unavailable.Until the late 18th century, there was little understanding of childhood as a concept, and children were seen as "little adults".Generally, a law will instead establish the age below which it is illegal to engage in sexual activity with that person.It has sometimes been used with other meanings, such as the age at which a person becomes competent to consent to marriage, but the meaning given above is the one now generally understood.The age of consent is the age at which a person is considered to be legally competent to consent to sexual acts and is thus the minimum age of a person with whom another person is legally permitted to engage in sexual activity.The distinguishing aspect of the age of consent laws is that the person below the minimum age is regarded as the victim and his or her sex partner is regarded as the offender, unless both are underage.
These factors all make age of consent an often confusing subject, and a topic of highly charged debates.The ancient Greek poet Hesiod in Works and Days (c.700 BC) suggests that a man should marry around the age of thirty, and that he should take a wife who is five years past puberty. In England, for example, the only reliable data in the early modern period comes from property records made after death.It should not be confused with the age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, the voting age, the drinking age, the driving age, etc.Age of consent laws vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, though most jurisdictions set the age of consent in the range 14 to 18.
In traditional societies, the age of consent for a sexual union was a matter for the family to decide, or a tribal custom.