Fact Check-Sexually abusing children is illegal in Finland, contrary to claims made online

Updated to correct paragraph spacing

A controversial 2018 court ruling in Finland has prompted claims that sex with children is legally permitted in the country. It is not. 

Criminal charges of rape do carry a specific definition in Finnish law, and criminals who commit sex crimes against children are sometimes convicted of other charges, such as aggravated sexual exploitation of a child. 

The charge of sexual abuse of a child applies to an offender who “performs a sexual act on a child below the age of sixteen years.” (pp. 93-94 here)

One headline, which can be found on websites (here), social media posts (here, here ) and online forums (here) reads: “Finnish Court Rules Sex With Children Is ‘Permitted’”. 

This is not true. But despite the false headline, the article does refer to a real 2018 court ruling, which caused controversy at the time and led to Finland updating its laws on child rape, so that prosecutors could seek a tougher penalty without having to prove that an attack involved violence. 

Finland’s Supreme Court ruled that a man who was found to have had sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old child was rightfully charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a child (here), which carries a sentence of 1-10 years imprisonment, rather than aggravated rape, which carries a sentence of 2-10 years (p. 92 & p. 94 here).

The charge of aggravated sexual abuse of a child applies when “the victim is a child whose age or stage of development is such that the offence is conducive to causing special injury to him or her”. (p. 93-4 here)

At the time, the charge of aggravated rape applied only in cases where the assault was carried out “by the use or threat of violence” (p.92 here ). The Supreme Court had to decide whether it was established “that the sexual intercourse had been committed with violence or that the child had been in a state of fear or other helplessness.” (here) 

Although the court found that no evidence had been presented to prove the child was in a state of fear or helplessness, some legal scholars argued at the time that this should have been taken as a given, considering the child’s age (here). 

The offender’s prison sentence of three years imprisonment for aggravated sexual abuse of a child was upheld.

“According to the final judgment, the case at hand did not qualify as rape, because the legislation at the time defined rape of children and adults according to the same criteria,”  Dr Daniela Alaattinoglu (here), a senior researcher at the Faculty of Law at the University of Turku who studies legal issues surrounding sexual violence told Reuters by email.

“The public, political and legal debate following the ruling was about whether these criteria set too high a threshold for rape offences, and whether sexual intercourse with a child should not by definition qualify as rape. It was considered symbolically important that the offence, concerning sexual intercourse with children, is referred to as 'rape', not merely 'aggravated sexual assault of a child'. The legislation was promptly amended in 2019 to introduce a special offence referred to as 'aggravated rape of a child'” (here).


False. In Finland, it is illegal for adults to “have sex with children” under 16 years of age. A 2018 case prompted an update to Finnish laws regarding child sexual abuse to define sexual abuse as rape in some cases without requiring prosecutors to prove violence.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here .