UN and ICJ’s 2023 report on sexual conduct misinterpreted amid EU elections

By: Rahul Adhikari
June 14 2024

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UN and ICJ’s 2023 report on sexual conduct misinterpreted amid EU elections

A social media post claims UN pushing for decriminalizing sexual relations between adults and minors. (Source: X/Modified by Logically Facts)

Fact-Check

The Verdict False

The set of legal principles did not propose decriminalizing sex with persons under 18 or declare pedophilia a "human right."

Claim ID a2e52bee

What is the claim?

A post on social media claims that the United Nations (UN) is pushing for decriminalizing sexual relations between adults and minors. The post includes a screenshot of a TikTok video that features an article titled “The UN is pushing a report that declares pedophilia is a human right.” A user shared the post on Facebook and wrote, “Ireland get out and vote!!!! Vote independents or nationalist parties.” An archived version of the post can be here.

The post was circulated ahead of the 2024 European Union elections, which were held between June 6 and June 9. Polling in Ireland for the European Parliament was held on June 7. Ireland has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 1973 and joined the UN in 1955. 

A screenshot of the post on social media. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)

However, the claim is false. A section of a report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the UN has been misinterpreted. The principles do not support decriminalizing sex between adults and minors or “declare pedophilia is a human right.”

What is the truth?

The claim was based on a report titled “The 8 March Principles for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law Proscribing Conduct Associated with Sex, Reproduction, Drug Use, HIV, Homelessness and Poverty.” This report was a collaboration between the ICJ, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

The March 2023 report refers to the sexual activity of adolescents, not children. While the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as an individual aged between zero and 18 years, the United Nations and the World Health Organization officially defined adolescence as a period between the ages of ten and 19 years.

The said report discussed a new set of expert jurist legal principles to guide the application of international human rights law to criminal law. Principle 16 of the report on the topic of consensual sexual activities involving minors stated that criminal laws should reflect the rights of persons under 18 to make such decisions, considering their age, maturity, best interests, and non-discrimination guarantees. 

Moreover, the report notes that sexual conduct involving persons below the domestically prescribed minimum age of consent to sex may be consensual, even if not technically legal. In this context, the report says that enforcement of criminal law should reflect the rights and capacity of individuals under the age of 18 to make such decisions and their right to be heard in matters concerning them.

The report nowhere advocates for decriminalizing sexual activities between minors and adults or recognizing pedophilia. The report also clearly mentions that when enforcing criminal law, the minimum age of consent for sexual activity must be applied without discrimination based on gender or the legal age of marriage.

ICJ and UN say report 'misrepresented'

The ICJ has clarified that “The 8 March Principles” have been “seriously misrepresented” on social media and websites. The statement from the body clarified that the report didn’t call for “decriminalization of sex with children”, nor did they call for the “abolition of a domestically prescribed minimum age of consent to sex."

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric also addressed the allegations as “malicious misreporting on a recent report on the age of legal consent” in a press briefing. He said, “I can tell you that the report released by the International Commission of Jurists in March has recently been misrepresented on a number of websites."

Logically Facts also reached out to UNAIDS for further clarification. Christine Stegling, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director for Policy, Advocacy, and Knowledge, stated, “In the application of law, it is recognized that criminal sanctions are not appropriate against adolescents of similar ages for consensual non-exploitative sexual activity. So too, it is recognized that adolescents should not be prevented from accessing health services which protect them.” She emphasized, “The U.N. is resolute in fighting the sexual exploitation of children, upholds that sexual exploitation and abuse of children is a crime, and supports countries to protect children.”

The verdict

A report by the ICJ has been misinterpreted to claim that the UN advocated for decriminalizing sexual activities involving minors. The report actually sets out a human rights-based approach to criminal laws typically penalizing conduct associated with sex, reproduction, drug use, HIV, homelessness and poverty.

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