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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.In the 12th century, Gratian, the influential founder of canon law in medieval Europe, accepted the age of puberty for marriage to be around twelve for girls and around fourteen for boys but acknowledged consent to be meaningful if both children were older than seven years of age.The person below the minimum age is regarded as the victim and their sex partner is regarded as the offender, unless both are underage.The purpose of setting an age of consent is to protect an underage person from sexual advances.A general shift in social and legal attitudes toward issues of sex occurred during the modern era.Attitudes on the appropriate age of permission for females to engage in sexual activity drifted toward adulthood.Towards the end of the 18th century, other European countries also began to enact similar laws.The first French Constitution of 1791 established the minimum age at eleven years.
The first recorded age-of-consent law dates from 1275 in England; as part of its provisions on rape, the Statute of Westminster 1275 made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age," whether with or without her consent.Charges and penalties resulting from a breach of these laws may range from a misdemeanor, such as corruption of a minor, to what is popularly called statutory rape.There are many "grey areas" in this area of law, some regarding unspecific and untried legislation, others brought about by debates regarding changing societal attitudes, and others due to conflicts between federal and state laws.There were authorities that said that consent could take place earlier.
Marriage would then be valid as long as neither of the two parties annulled the marital agreement before reaching puberty, or if they had already consummated the marriage.
The term age of consent rarely appears in legal statutes.