The ages of consent for sexual activity vary by jurisdiction across South America. The specific activity engaged in or the gender of its participants can also be affected by the law.
Below is a discussion of the various laws dealing with this subject. The highlighted age refers to an age at or above which an individual can engage in unfettered sexual relations with another who is also at or above that age.
Other variables, for example close in age exceptions may exist and are noted when relevant. The only country in South America where male same-sex sexual conduct is illegal is Guyana and a higher age of consent for same-sex sexual relations in Chile, Paraguay and Suriname.
In South America, many countries have different levels of protection or of restriction for sexual activities with minors. The age at which there are no restrictions indicates the moment when someone reaches full sexual autonomy with respect to the law, while the minimum age of consent shows the minimum age at which someone can legally give consent, however under certain restrictions or circumstances. Sexual acts with someone under this minimum age are legally classified as sexual abuse. The extent and nature of these restrictions or circumstances vary according to the country and are explained below in the proper section.
In Argentina, the age at which there are no restrictions for sexual activities is 18, while the minimum age of consent is 13 regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. Sexual acts with children younger than 13 are strictly illegal. Sexual relations with teens 13-18 are addressed by several laws. None of these laws explicitly outlaws such relations, but makes them open to prosecution under certain circumstances (such as if the relation is considered exploitative, if the minor was “corrupted”).
The age of consent in Bolivia is set at puberty regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation, according to Article 308 of the Bolivian Penal Code (PDF) (in Spanish), which says: “if the rape (violación) was to a minor who has not reached the age of puberty, the act will be punished with ten to twenty years of prison”. This article refers only to “carnal access” (acceso carnal), whereas article 312 covers all other “lascivious acts” (actos libidinosos) not characterized as “carnal access”, which are punished with one to three years of prison.
There is also a crime called estupro (article 309), which applies for consented relations obtained by the means of seduction or deceit, with a female adolescent, defined as a “woman who has reached puberty and is under 17”.
Both violación and estupro are aggravated (article 310) with an extra one third of the term when: (a) there is a serious health damage to the victim; (b) the offender is a parent, son or daughter, brother or sister, half-brother or half-sister, stepfather or stepmother, or is in charge of education or custody of the victim; (c) there are multiple offenders.
In Brazil, the age of consent is 14, regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation, with a judicial precedent showing that a close-in-age exception that allows those aged 12 and 13 to engage in sexual activity with partners who are 5 years older or less is legal, although not legally formalized. The age at which there are no restrictions for sexual activities is 18.
Sex with minors below the age of 14, at least for all those older than 18, is equivalent to statutory rape and is legally defined by Article 217-A of the Brazilian Penal Code (see text here in Portuguese) as the “rape of a vulnerable person”, with a penalty of 8 to 15 years in prison.
The prostitution of minors (all ages under 18) is punished by law and is prosecuted by the State, according to the Code of Minors (Article 244-A), as well as according to the Penal Code, Articles 218-B, 227, 230, 231 and 231-A. The law makes no distinctions between sexual orientation cases.
In any case, only individuals aged 18 or older can be legally charged, since this is the Brazilian age of criminal responsibility according to the Federal Constitution, Article 228.
In Chile, the age at which there are no restrictions for sexual activities is 18, while the minimum age of consent is 14. Limitations exist between 14 and 18 years old (Art. 362 Chilean Penal Code). Even when not clearly stated in Article 362, later on, in Article 365, homosexual activity is declared illegal with anyone under 18 years old.
The minimum age of consent in Colombia is 14 regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. However sexual acts with children aged between 14 and 18 can be prosecuted as Estupro, under the Article 301 – Acceso carnal mediante engaño and Article 302 – Acto sexual mediante engaño if consent is obtained through “deceit” (“engaño”).
The age of consent of 14 is determined by Article 208 of the Colombian Penal Code, Law 599 of 2000 (source), which reads: “Article 208 – Abusive ‘carnal access’ of minors under 14 – He who has carnal access with a person under 14 years old, will be placed in prison for 12 (twelf) to 20 (twenty) years”. The definition of “carnal access” (acceso carnal) is later given in Article 212, and refers basically to vaginal, anal or oral sex, but also includes the penetration of the vagina or of the anus by another part of the human body or by an object.
Additionally, Article 209 refers to sexual acts with minors under 14, other than the aforementioned “carnal access”, and to sexual acts witnessed by this minor as well. Finally, it covers also the act of someone inducing this minor to sexual practices. The penalty foreseen by this article is 9 to 13 years in prison.
Article 211 details circumstances in which penalties are aggravated, from one third to one half of extra time in prison, for any of the previous articles: (a) if there are multiple offenders; (b) if the offender is in position of authority over the victim or takes advantage of a condition of trust; (c) if a sexually transmitted disease is transmitted; (d) if the victim is under 12; (e) if the offender is husband or wife of the victim, or if they live together, or if the offender and the victim had a son or daughter together; (f) if the act results in pregnancy.
In Costa Rica under the Penal Code of 2004, the age of consent is 15, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender.
Sexual relations with minors Article 159. Anyone who, taking advantage of age, attempts to obtain or obtains carnal access, by oral, anal or vaginal penetration, to a person of either sex who is over 12 and under 15 years of age, even with his or her consent, shall be punishable with two to six years’ imprisonment. A similar penalty shall be imposed if the act involves the introduction of one or more fingers or objects into the vagina or anus.
The age of consent in Cuba is 16.
The age of consent in the Dominican Republic is 18.
The minimum age of consent in Ecuador is 14, regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. However, sexual acts with children aged between 14 and 18 can still be prosecuted. A person who uses “seduction or deception” to gain the consent of an underage girl can be prosecuted under the Estupro law; when consent is obtained through exploitative means the act can be prosecuted under the Childhood and Adolescence Code of 2003- Article 68.
In El Salvador, the age of consent appears to be 18 (although the laws are not clear cut in regard to sexual acts with persons aged between 15 and 18). Several laws apply to sex with persons aged between 15 and 18. Article 169 makes it illegal to “promote, facilitate, manage, finance, instigate or organize in any way the use of persons under eighteen years of age in sexual or erotic acts individually or organized, publicly or privately”.
In Guatemala, the age of consent is 18, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender. The Law against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons was passed in February 2009, and provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for sex with a minor.
In Honduras, the age of consent is 15, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender.
In Nicaragua, the age of consent is 18, although, in regard to victims 16-17, the law (Article 175) is not clear cut.
Article 170. Statutory rape. Anyone who is married or in a stable de facto union or who is of age and who, without violence or intimidation, has or allows carnal access with a person aged between 14 and 16 shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two to four years.
Article 175. Sexual exploitation, pornography and paid sexual acts with adolescents. Anyone who induces, provides, promotes or uses persons aged under 16 or a disabled person for sexual or erotic purposes, forcing them to witness or participate in an act or show in public or in private, even if the victim consents to witness or participate in such an act, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period of five to seven years, or four to six years if the victim is aged between 16 and 18.
Article 168. Rape of children under the age of 14. Anyone who has or allows carnal access with a person aged under 14 or who, for sexual purposes, inserts or forces the victim to insert a finger, object or instrument, by way of the vagina, anus or mouth, with or without consent, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 12 to 15 years.
Article 172. Sexual abuse. Anyone who engages in lewd acts with or improper touching of another person, without their consent,
In no circumstances shall the victim be considered to have given consent if the victim is under the age of 14 or has a mental disability or illness.
In Panama, the age of consent appears to be 18.
Laws regarding persons aged between 14 and 18: Article 215 appears to prohibit sexual acts with minors:
Article 215 C: “He who maltreats a minor shall be sanctioned with imprisonment from one to six years. The following conducts typify maltreatment of minors: (…) 2) Committing, inducing or helping to commit sexual abuse against him, or other lustful or lewd acts, even though they do not imply carnal access (…)
Article 226 deals with the “corruption” of minors and prohibits sexual acts with persons younger than 18 (although it is not clear if this article prohibits such sex acts per se or only if the victim was “corrupted”):
“Article 226: “He who corrupts or facilitates the corruption of a person under 18 years of age, practicing with her a lewd act or inducing her to practice or view it, shall be sanctioned with imprisonment of two to four years”.
Another article, Article 219, prohibits consensual sex acts with a “maiden woman, over 14 years old and under 18″ (probably understood to mean a virgin girl aged 14–18):
Article 219: “He who has carnal access to a maiden woman, over 14 years old and under 18, with her consent, shall be sanctioned with prison of one to three years. If a marriage promise is involved, or if the deed is committed by a relative, a minister of a cult that the victim professes, a tutor, teacher or person in charge, by means of any title, of the education, safe keeping or upbringing of the victim, the penalty can be increased up to twice the amount”.
In regard to the Article 219, the action or penalty is to be extinguished if the author and the assaulted person are to be married, this is stipulated by Article 225.
Laws regarding persons younger than 14:
Article 216: “He who has sexual access with persons of either sex, utilizing his genital organs or other parts of his body, or introducing any object in the genitals, mouth or anus of the victim, shall be sanctioned with imprisonment from three to ten years in the following cases: 1) When violence or intimidation is used; 2) When the assaulted person is deprived of reason or of sense or when due to physical or mental sickness or for any other cause she cannot resist; 3) When the victim is arrested or imprisoned and entrusted to the guilty party to supervise her or take her from one place to another; and 4) With a person of either sex that is not 14 years old, even though none of the circumstances expressed previously apply.”
Article 220: “He who with the purpose of achieving carnal access executes libidinous acts in prejudice of a person of either sex, by means of violence or intimidation, or when the victim is not 14 years old or cannot resist, shall be sanctioned with imprisonment of three to six years. The sanction can be increased by one third to half, if any one of the circumstances established in the second paragraph or Article 219 occur.”
The general age of consent in Paraguay is 14 for heterosexual relations and 16 for homosexual relations. The age of consent for extramarital intercourse with female adolescents is 16.
The age of consent in Peru was 14, but in 2006, was raised to 18 by the Congress. In 2007, Peru’s Congress voted overwhelmingly to return the age to its prior age of 14, regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation, however, due to great controversy, the bill was ‘reconsidered’ or withdrawn.
The age of consent in Uruguay stands at 15 regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. Between the ages of 12 and 15, there is an intermediary status where violence is legally presumed until otherwise proven. In this case, the onus probandi (the burden of proof) shifts from the plaintiff to the accused, who still has the chance to prove in their defense that consent was given. Below the age of 12 proof of consent is not a defense.
The age of consent in Venezuela stands at 16 regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. Sexual acts with children aged between 12 and 16 are punished under Article 379; furthermore, consensual sex with a woman 16-21 can be punished if the woman was “seduced” under the promise of marriage and she was “known to be honest”.