Like France, many other countries, increased the age of consent to 13 in the 19th century.Nations, such as Portugal, Spain, Denmark and the Swiss cantons, that adopted or mirrored the Napoleonic code likewise initially set the age of consent at 10-12 years and then raised it to between 13 and 16 years in the second half of the 19th century. laws did not change in the wake of England's shift. Behind the inconsistency of these different laws was the lack of an obvious age to incorporate into law.There was one exception: a man's acts with his wife, to which rape law, and hence the age of consent, did not apply.In trials, juries were often unwilling to simply enforce the law.Revelations of child prostitution were central to those campaigns, a situation that resulted, reformers argued, from men taking advantage of the innocence of girls just over the age of consent. The outcry it provoked pushed British legislators to raise the age of consent to 16 years, and stirred reformers in the U.S, such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the British Empire, and Europe to push for similar legislation.Narrowly concerned with sexual violence, and with girls, originally, since the 19th century the age of consent has occupied a central place in debates over the nature of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and been drawn into campaigns against prostitution and child marriage, struggles to achieve gender and sexual equality, and the response to teenage pregnancy.
It was not only that relying solely on age seemed arbitrary to them; at least until the end of the 19th century, age had limited salience in other aspects of daily life.
In practice, these laws were often used to control the behavior of the working-class girls.
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.
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.