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Fam Plann Perspect. 1997 Jan-Feb;29(1):30-4, 40.

Can statutory rape laws be effective in preventing adolescent pregnancy?

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Alan Guttmacher Institute, Washington, D.C., USA.



The male sex partners of minor adolescent women are often 3-6 years older. As policymakers and the general public have become increasingly aware of this reality, there have been calls to enforce states' generally ignored statutory rape laws against sexual intercourse between adults and minors. Statutory rape laws became part of the American legal system through English common law, with early lawmakers in the US setting 10 years of age as the legal age of consent to engage in sexual relations. States gradually increased the age of consent during the 19th century so that the age of consent is now 14-18 years depending upon the state. There is also a widespread perception that adolescent mothers account for the large increase in welfare caseloads over the past 25 years. Policymakers are therefore especially interested in the possibility of reducing adolescent pregnancy rates and welfare costs through the enforcement of statutory rape laws. However, most experts argue that the greater enforcement of such laws will fail to significantly reduce adolescent pregnancy and birth rates. Adolescent childbearing is instead the result of a complex web of factors, including limited opportunity, entrenched poverty, low self-esteem, and many other issues which statutory rape laws do not address.

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