Underage dating debate

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Moreover, they argued, by late adolescence girls possessed sufficient understanding about how to use the law to blackmail unwary men.

Historians have argued that increasing the age of consent also gave the law a more pronounced regulatory dimension.

They also argued that the age of consent should be aligned with other benchmarks of development, such as the age at which girls could enter into contracts and hold property rights, typically 21 years.

Opponents remained focused on physiological maturity, however, and argued that girls in their teens were sufficiently developed not to need legal protection.

The broad context for that change was the emergence of an Enlightenment concept of childhood focused on development and growth.

This notion cast children as more distinct in nature from adults than previously imagined, and as particularly vulnerable to harm in the years around puberty.

The 1860 Indian Penal Code set the age at 10 years; in 1891 the age of consent but not the age of marriage was raised to 12 years.

As a result, the age of consent regulated the consummation of marriage, ensuring that it was delayed until an age when Indian girls were considered likely to have begun menstruating.

Yet reformers at the time saw no distinction between protection and regulation: in making it a crime for girls to decide to have sexual intercourse outside marriage, the law protected them from themselves and from the immature understanding that led them to behaviors reformers considered immoral.

Jurist Sir Matthew Hale argued that the age of consent applied to 10- and 11-year-old girls, but most of England's North American colonies adopted the younger age.

A small group of Italian and German states that introduced an age of consent in the 16th century also employed 12 years.

By 1920, Anglo-American legislators had responded by increasing the age of consent to 16 years, and even as high as 18 years.

While those ages were well beyond the normal age of menstruation, proponents justified them on scientific grounds that psychological maturity came later than physiological maturity.

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