Are People Trying to Make the Legal Age of Consent 4 Years Old?
A viral September 3 2020 Facebook post claiming that “there are people trying to make the age of consent four years old” racked up a six-figure share count (archived here) in one week:
We can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes until we are 21,but there are people trying to make legal age of consent 4 years old. Let that sink in. #SaveOurChildren
Use of the hashtag #SaveOurChildren suggested the post was one of many baseless rumors during the summer of 2020 about then-current events and child trafficking — largely linked to QAnon conspiracy theories:
How COVID-19 Triggered a #SaveTheChildren Child Trafficking Panic
It would be difficult to list every rumor in the summer of 2020 about child trafficking and pedophilia, but they were nearly constant, as disinformation entered the nooks and crannies of conversations on and off social media. For example, rumors circulated that Patton Oswalt described himself as a “proud pedophile,” that Victoria’s Secret bras featured a trafficking-related tracking chip, that 800,000 children disappear annually in the United States, that 39 missing children were located in a trailer in Georgia, that Oprah Winfrey condoned pedophilia on her show, that LOL Dolls were secretly priming children to normalize oversexualization, and what was perhaps the original viral expression of the rumors — that Wayfair.com was selling and shipping actual children in extremely overpriced cabinets:
In a bizarre summer during the even stranger year of 2020, social media was transfixed by claims that the majority of world events were a cover for the widespread abduction and trafficking of children, as the Facebook post above’s popularity clearly demonstrated.
What’s Does ‘Age of Consent’ Actually Mean?
In the Facebook post, a user claimed “people” were “trying to make the age of consent four years old” — so what’s an age of consent?
Broadly, the age of consent is “the age at which one is legally competent to give consent especially to marriage or to sexual intercourse.” And again, the poster maintained “people” were trying to lower the age of consent to the age of four.
We touched on the concept of an “age of consent” in a more wide-ranging fact check about things women could not do as recently as 1971, noting that while it was true the age of consent has historically been as low as ten, it was never “seven”:
In a postscript claim, the post claims the age of consent for sexual activity in most states in 1880 was between ten and twelve years of age. A notable exception of the age of seven in Delaware is added, a claim that has been kicking around the internet for a while … One historian commenting on the thread noted that the referenced statute was “commonly misinterpreted,” and a legal site explains more about the law[.]
It was further true that the age of consent in most states was between 10 and 12 in 1880; in other Western countries, it was between 10 and 13.
In July 2020, The Week examined ages of consent around the world at the time of publication. The outlet determined that the oldest age of consent in 2020 were in Bahrain and South Korea, while the lowest was in Nigeria:
Nigeria has the lowest age of consent in the world, at 11. In most parts of Southern Africa, including Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, people can consent to sex from the age of 16 … Individuals aged below 20 in South Korea are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape. At the other end of the spectrum, the Philippines has faced calls to raise its age of consent from 12, with a bill currently passing through parliament to increase it to 16.
Nowhere in the world was the age of consent lower than 11 (Nigeria) or 12 (the Philippines).
Citations for People Trying to Lower the Age of Consent to Four Years Old
No citations or supporting information was included with the post to support its claims “people” were “trying to make the age of consent four years old.”
In a search for similar claims, we located a very different but still false claim that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had argued to lower the age of consent to 12. Incidentally, those fact checks were published in late July and early August 2020, at the height of the QAnon trafficking panic.
As for specific references to anyone trying to lower the age of consent to four, we only were able to locate a Reddit post, shared to r/insanepeoplefacebook on September 9 2020:
I’m pretty sure people aren’t trying to make legal age of consent 4 years old.. from insanepeoplefacebook
Several commenters correctly said that the claim originated with QAnon:
“This is qanon bullshit.they are trying to lure in soft hearted people to their cult of dumb.”
“Honestly this whole Save Our Children Qanon ploy was ingenious. It got their foot in the door of sooooo many parents who would not normally be on board with reading cult propaganda”
“Only a cult member would believe this kind of nonsense.”
Another commenter lamented the damage done to discourse on at-risk children and efforts to stop actual child trafficking:
What’s upsetting to me is as a CSA survivor, I’ve done education/activism work: These QAnon cultists have royally fucked up my ability to help anyone because every time someone brings up child abuse it’s 9/10 times them. They have so much energy but don’t want any resources on legit problems. They don’t want to donate. Nothing. They just want to recruit for their cult. It’s also extremely bizarre knowing they both believe shit like that but don’t think I, a survivor of early childhood abuses, might know more than they do. I’m tired of having these absurd people trying to speak for me.
Also just so everyone knows, child marriage is legal in a few states in the USA, including under the age of consent, because somehow nobody has thought to fix that Puritan loophole. It’s not a huge number in developed countries but some religious fanatics do marry off their children, mostly girls, to much older adults. This is usually done however at the start of puberty, so even in these rarer modern cases in certain states, the historic legal age was pubescent. Which is still disgusting and must be corrected for our modern understanding of consent and seeing girls as people rather than property, but rarely are any child marriages besides betrothals that young (4yrs) in any culture, hence why it would be so unlikely for any country to legalize pedophilia. I have no idea where they’d even get this idea from. Again, QAnon continues to take away attention from legitimate issues and replace it with fever dream nightmare scenarios somehow worse than the existing reality.
A viral Facebook post claimed that “there are people trying to make legal age of consent 4 years old,” even though people “can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes until we are 21.” The only mentions of anyone trying to “make the age of consent 4” were in Reddit posts mocking the post in question, and we were unable to locate any efforts — credible or speculative — to lower the age of consent to four. In short, there’s no basis for this claim, which appears to have been made up out of nothing at all.