School of Law, Gender and Media

Age of consent and child-marriage in the British Empire


This interdisciplinary project aims to explore the debates that led to the reform of age of consent laws in UK and their introduction in other parts of the Empire at the end of the 19th century. Intertwined within these debates are notions of gender, women’s rights, biology, and attempts to understand the ‘native’ psyche. These compete with tropes of cultural relativism, orientalism, the female victim, and the white (wo)man’s burden amongst other concerns.

The project seeks to start a dialogue that recognises not only the contemporary legal frameworks, but also analyses their historical interrelatedness and the impact that they had on one another. It also seeks to examine the impact of particular campaigners on the discourse around, and laws on, age of consent. We are particularly interested in how consent is/was understood within law, religion and society; the distinctions made between physical and intellectual maturity in relation to capacity to consent; and how these were imagined for different sexes and different nationalities within the Empire.

The project aims to bring together the growing number of socio-legal scholars who are currently working on the histories of age of consent in the British Empire in order to form an international scholarly network. Recognising that the development and history of the age of consent debate is transnational, international, and a multi-layered one, the project aims to form an international network of scholars working in the area.