National Sexual Rights Law and Policy Database

The National Sexual Rights Law and Policy Database is an online database that compiles information from national Constitutions, laws and policies related to the full spectrum of sexual rights, including reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive health. Created by the Sexual Rights Initiative, with contributions from a number of individuals and organizations, the Database seeks to help strengthen the respect, protection and fulfillment of sexual rights at the national, regional and international levels.

Background

The rights of all individuals to make decisions regarding their bodies, gender, sexuality and reproductive lives, to accessible and affordable health services, and to accurate and comprehensive information and education are fundamental human rights. Every country around the world regulates and restricts aspects of sexuality, gender and reproduction through law and policy. Harmonizing laws with human rights standards can help to realize sexual rights across and within populations.

In contexts across the world, laws serve both to promote and to hinder the realization of sexual rights. Laws that mandate the provision of evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education, for example, contribute to adolescents’ understanding of sexual rights and the control that they have over matters related to their sexuality as well as their knowledge of where to seek and access services. Conversely, laws that require third party authorization to access sexual and reproductive health services or criminalize consensual sexual conduct can exclude or deter people from seeking and receiving the information and services to which they have rights. 

Legal norms are often confused and conflated with socio-cultural norms to the detriment of individuals and their rights. Clarity on the law and gaps in its implementation are the starting points for advocacy aimed at creating enabling environments for the fulfillment of sexual rights everywhere. In order to achieve this transparency, the Sexual Rights Initiative has created this Database, updated regularly to reflect legislative change. The Database intends to serve a number of purposes:

Research Methodology

Topics

Sexual rights encompass a broad range of issues. Ten topics are selected for the Database, based on the lack of availability of comprehensive information online on these topics: marital rape, adultery, crimes committed in the name of honour and passion, adult sex work, age of sexual consent, contraception, parental consent requirements, spousal consent requirements, conscientious objection, and sexuality education. Resources for other sexual rights issues such as abortion, HIV, and transgender rights, among others, are listed on the ‘Related resources’ page.

Legal framework

The way in which laws are set forth varies from country to country. While some countries’ laws are codified, many countries use a variety of sources that, taken together, comprise the ‘legal framework’ of that jurisdiction. Legal frameworks can include civil law (codified), common law (developed by courts), as well as customary, religious or other forms of traditional or uncodified law. Given the complexities and uncodified nature of much of customary, religious and traditional law, the Database focuses primarily on civil (codified) and common law.

Customary and religious laws enjoy the status of binding sources of law in a number of countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. These laws can create loopholes that permit cultural and religious customs or practices, some of which are discriminatory, to persist, perpetuating or compounding gender inequality and other practices that have negative implications for sexual rights. The Database takes the following approach:

Sources

The Database prioritizes primary legal sources where available. The following is a list of the types of legal documents and sources that are drawn upon for the Database; not all sources are available for all countries or issues:

Where primary sources are not available, the Database cites the most reliable secondary source available, including UN, academic and NGO reports, websites and databases.

Explanation of coding method

The ways in which legal frameworks deal with the sexual rights issues included in this Database vary greatly, and there are limitations in developing a finite number of codes to represent the complexity of these legal data. However, in order to standardize users’ experiences of the Database, allow for ease of access to data, and visually represent data in maps, codes have been developed for the main research questions for each of the topics. Some codes are self-explanatory, and explanations are provided below for the more complex issues.  Further, un-coded questions are available only in the country data sheet. 

Adult sex work

- Coding focuses on whether the sex transaction is criminalized (selling and/or buying sex). 

Example: If selling sex is criminalized in addition to other activities around sex work (brothel managing, pimping, etc.) the code focuses on the transaction and would be “Selling sex work criminalized only”.

- “Partial criminalization” is used if neither selling nor buying sex is criminalized, but the activities around it are (ie. brothel keeping, advertising sex work, pimping).
- “Other punitive regulation” is used when there are non-criminal (i.e., administrative) punishments for sex work transactions and/or activities.
- “Not subject to punitive regulation/Not criminalized” includes decriminalized systems, systems with no laws, and regulated systems.

Note: The research focuses on whether voluntary, adult sex work is criminalized. Hence, it does not examine issues of trafficking, forced prostitution, or minors engaged in sex work.

Conscientious objection 

Where health professionals are afforded the right to conscientiously object to the provision of sexual and reproductive health services, it is important to look at whether and how this right is qualified in law. The two most common qualifications are ‘emergency care’ and ‘referral,’ both which are built into the codes for this topic. ‘Emergency care’ provisions   disallow conscientious objection in cases where a patient requires emergency care to save her or his life or health. ‘Referral’ provisions require the conscientious objector to ensure that patients are seen by another provider who is willing to provide the same service. 

Different sex age of sexual consent 

- Age of sexual consent is coded in ranges of two years to lessen the number of codes and simplify the map. The exact age can be found in the country data sheet. 
- If the age of sexual consent is different based on sex, the highest age is coded, with an “S” sex discrepancy exception. A marriage requirement is considered high. Explanation of the discrepancy can be found in the country data sheet. 
- If the age of consent varies for different sexual acts, the age of consent for heterosexual sexual intercourse is coded, with an “A” act discrepancy exception. Explanation of the discrepancy can be found in the country data sheet.
- If certain sexual acts (anal/oral sex) between consenting different sex partners are criminalized, age of consent to heterosexual sexual intercourse is coded, with an “L” legally restricted exception. Explanation of the legal restrictions can be found in the country data sheet.

Same sex age of sexual consent

- Age of sexual consent is coded in ranges of two years to lessen the number of codes and simplify the map. The exact age can be found in the country data sheet. 
- If the age of sexual consent is different based on sex, the highest age is coded, with an “S” sex discrepancy exception. Explanation of the discrepancy can be found in the country data sheet. 
- If male/male same sex activities are illegal but female/female same sex activities are legal, the age of consent for female/female sex is coded, with an “L” legally restricted exception. Details about the laws that criminalize male/male same sex activities can be found in the country data sheet. 
- If all same-sex sexual activity is illegal, the “No information” code is used, with an “L” legally restricted exception.

Marital rape

- “Yes” and “No” codes are used where there is explicit language including or excluding marital rape in the criminal law or the issue has been definitively determined by judicial decisions in common law systems.
- “Unclear” is used when the language of the law does not explicitly include or exclude marital rape and no other reliable sources confirm that marital rape is criminalized. 

Sexuality education

- The codes for this topic represent whether some form of sexuality education is mandated or prohibited by the government. The ‘Neither’ code was used for countries that do not mandate sexuality education by law but, rather, may ‘encourage’ or ‘support’ its implementation through governmental or non-governmental bodies. 
- Many different terms are used to refer to sexuality education programs across the globe. ‘Family planning education,’ ‘Population education,’ and ‘HIV prevention education’ are just a few examples. The title of a program does not always correspond to its comprehensiveness. In coding the sexuality education topic, researchers did not look at the comprehensiveness but, rather, the legal mandate for implementation. Further information on the topics taught in each country’s sexuality education program is provided in the country data sheet in response to un-coded questions. 

Third Party Authorization for sexual and reproductive health services

- If any parental or spousal consent requirements exist for any service, then the ‘third party authorization for sexual and reproductive health services – general’ question will be coded with a ‘Yes’. 
- The exception “PD” (provider discretion) includes any categories of exceptions where the decision is left to the provider, including: mature minor exceptions, determination of whether a person “needs” contraception or is sexually active, determination of maturity, etc. 
- The exception “L” (legally restricted) is used to denote sexual and reproductive health services that are restricted by law (i.e., abortion, sterilization, etc.). Explanation of these legal restrictions can be found in the country data sheet under the specific service.

 “Issue determined at subnational level”

- This code is used if the laws differ within a country due to a federated or subnational system. If all states or regions within a country have different laws but the laws all fall into the same code category, the substantive code is used.

For example, if a country has a federated system of criminal law but all states criminalize marital rape, the answer to whether marital rape is criminalized is “Yes” rather than “Issue determined at subnational level”.

The Database uses colours to present information visually through maps. In many instances, maps employ colours carrying meanings that are widely understood. Shades of green have been used to imply that particular law and policy situations are favourable because the SRI interprets them as being consistent with a human rights-based approach. Shades of red have been used to imply that particular law and policy situations are unfavourable because the SRI interprets them as being inconsistent with a human rights-based approach. In some instances, multiple shades of red are used simultaneously for different laws and policies with the intention of indicating that they all are unfavourable and require reform, rather than enabling the user to distinguish between the shades. Some ‘neutral’ colours, i.e. which do not carry widely understood meanings, have been employed to represent information that carries greater complexity and, thus, is not categorized as either favourable or unfavourable. See, for example, ages of sexual consent, and parental and spousal consent to access a number of sexual and reproductive health services.

Validation

Local or national activists, advocates, academics or NGOs have validated data collected for each jurisdiction, and provided valuable feedback and nuance.

Updating

All data presented on this Database carries a date stamp indicating when a particular country’s data was last updated.

Limitations