The maximum penalty could be life imprisonment for rape, sexual assault, sexual assault by penetration, or causing a young child to participate in sexual activity.
There is no defence that the accused believed that the child was older.
These are if the older person believed the young person to be aged 16 or over and they have not previously been charged with a similar offence, or the age difference is less than two years.
Sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal) and oral sex between young people aged 13–15 are also offences, even if both partners consent.
The age of consent is the same regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
There are possible defences if the sexual activity does not involve penetrative or oral sex.
There is no defence of mistaken belief about the age of the child, as there is in cases involving 13–15 year olds.
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Last updated April 2015 This factsheet summarises some of the key points of UK law relating to sexual behaviour. This factsheet is not currently available as a PDF.
The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women.
The Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 introduced a series of laws to protect children under 16 from abuse.