The ‘age of consent’ refers to the age at which a person can legally consent to sex. The age of consent varies between different states and territories. In the Northern Territory it is 16.
The law does not prohibit young people below 16 from having sex but rather, it prohibits other people from having sex with them. The Northern Territory Criminal Code Act sets out various criminal offences consisting of sex acts with children below various ages. It is these offences that determine the age of consent.
Child sex offences in the Northern Territory
In the Northern Territory it is an offence to have sexual intercourse with a child under 16 (Criminal Code, Section 127). This includes penetrative sex and oral sex and is the same for everyone regardless of gender and sexuality.
The Criminal Code Act makes it an offense for anyone to have sex with a child under 16, not only for an adult. Sex between two fifteen-year-olds is therefore unlawful in the NT and both participants could be charged with a criminal offence as a result.
It is also an offence in the Northern Territory to have sex with a child who is aged 16 or 17 and who is under your special care. This includes being a teacher, youth worker, counsellor or employer. Sexual offences against children under 16 who are also under special care, or belong to particular classes which make them more vulnerable, are more serious and carry heavier penalties.
The offences and penalties that apply for sex with a child under 16 in the NT are set out below
|Age of child||Circumstance||Maximum penalty|
|Under 16||-||16 years imprisonment|
|Between 10 and 16||Offender in company with another person|
Child under care of offender
Childhas serious disability
Child was under influence of drugs or alcohol
|20 years imprisonment|
|Under 16 and handicapped||Offender is provider of disability support services||20 years imprisonment|
|Under 10 and handicapped||Offender is the provider of disability support services||25 years imprisonment|
|Under 10||-||25 years imprisonment|
|16||Under special care of the offender||8 years imprisonment|
|17||Under special care of the offender||4 years imprisonment|
Meaning of consent
In the NT it is unlawful to have sex with anyone without their consent (Criminal Code, Section 192). Consent is defined as ‘free agreement’.
Children below the age of 16 cannot give legally effective consent to sex in the NT. This means that even if a 15-year-old agrees to have sex with a person, that person can still be charged with an offence under Section 127.
If the child is aged over 14, it is a defence if the person believed on reasonable grounds that the child was over the age of 16. If the child is under the age of 14, their agreement to have sex cannot be used as a defence.
How is the NT different from other jurisdictions?
No ‘Romeo and Juliette law’
In most Australian states and territories, the laws governing the age of consent allow for two people who are under 16 but who are close in age to have consensual sex. For example, in Victoria it is legal for a person between the ages of 12 and 16 to have sex with another person if the other person is less than two years older than them. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘Romeo and Juliette law’ and exists to allow for the situation where two young people are engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. No such provision exists in the NT.
Under the Northern Territory Care and Protection of Children Act, it is mandatory for all persons in the NT to report any sexual activity by a person under 16 to the Department of Children and Families (Section 26). This provision applies to all Territorians including doctors, nurses, teachers and parents. It applies regardless of the circumstances of the sexual activity and whether or not it is with another person of a similar age.
This mandatory reporting provision has been widely criticised with many feeling that it makes young people reluctant to seek medical advice for sexual health issues.