A couple of years ago my former law partner William L. Pfeifer, Jr. and I represented a man accused of incest and sodomy. He had been improperly convicted of incest because the statute of limitations had expired before his prosecution began.
Under Alabama law, there is no time limit to charge someone with rape, or with a sex offense involving a victim under the age of 16, but there is a three (3) year statute of limitations for other felonies including sodomy 1st and sodomy 2nd degree, sexual torture, sexual abuse 1st degree, sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old, and incest. Alabama Ala. Code § 15-3-5(a)(4) & 15-3-1 (2006).
Bill was able to get the man’s incest conviction overturned and I was able to get his sodomy indictment dismissed for lack of evidence.
Recently, I had a client ask me about the status of incest laws. He told me he is having a sexual relationship and romantic relationship with his own adult daughter and they wanted to marry. They knew that incest is illegal in the United States, but they were curious about other countries. Honestly, at first I joked that we were not likely to find any countries which permitted sex between family members, much less marriage. Boy, was I wrong.
As I began my research, I was astounded to find that, in fact, many countries have no problem with intra-family sex or intra-family marriage, or both.
In Asia, legalized incest isn’t commonplace, but some of the largest societies in the region permit it. China is an emerging economic giant because the strict totalitarian Communist country has adopted Western market-based reforms. Interestingly, China has rejected Western morals relating to sexuality and the country permits consensual incestuous sex, but not incestuous marriage.
Interestingly, Hong Kong province expressly forbids heterosexual incest and incestuous marriage, but permits incestuous sex only between gays and lesbians over the age of 16. I wonder if that was a typo when they wrote the law!
India is open season for incestuous sex and marriage. There appears to be no legal or cultural prohibition against intra-family sex or marriage, and the country has virtually no age of consent laws. For years India’s permissiveness has caused consternation amongst westerners who posit that this foments child sexual exploitation. It is abundantly clear that India and it’s teeming population of one billion people are fine with the way it is.
Thailand is a country that culturally permits sex with children, despite some recently passed laws to curb the practice. While this issue continues to cause controversy in the international community, it is not a priority for the Thai population. Cultural norms permit incest even with children. While Thai leaders struggle with the growing international pressure to restrict and prohibit sex with children, the issue of incestuous sex among adults is clear. The government of Thailand permits incestuous sex between adults over 18 years of age but incestuous marriage is illegal.
Before you get the idea that those Asian cultures are unique in the world, consider this: Incestuous sex is legal in much of Western Europe and it has been for centuries.
France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg legalized incest in 1810, when Napoleon ruled. Apparently the diminutive Emperor felt incest was no big deal, and these countries have permitted intra-family sex for over 200 years. Intra-family marriage, however, is not permitted.
Sweden, a country that loves bureaucracy, allows incestuous sex but you have to obtain the government’s permission first. Imagine going by your local city hall and asking for that form!
In Russia, consensual sex between adults, including incest, is legal. Intra-family marriage is not allowed.
The Middle East is a complex place, and many cultural traditions permit incestuous sex, incestuous sex with children, and even incestuous marriage, but most of the Islamic governments officially forbid these practices. That said, Turkey has legalized consensual incestuous sex between adults.
South America, which is nearly 88% Roman Catholic, has only two countries which permit incest, but it’s two of the largest countries on the continent.
Argentina permits incestuous sex if both individuals are over the age of consent. Intra-family marriage is illegal.
Brazil permits incestuous sex if the participants are over the age of 14, but intra-family marriage is illegal, except when.... Oh man, is it complicated. In fact, Brazil loves bureaucracy more than even Sweden, and has a byzantine system of rules, definitions and prohibitions on incestuous marriage that will make your head spin. Some relationships, i.e. first cousins, are permitted to marry in some cases. So, isn’t that incest? Whew!
Only one country on the African continent permits incestuous sex. The Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) permits consensual incestuous sex between adults, but not marriage.
Remember, this article is informational only. If you want legal advice as to a particular country, consult a lawyer in that country. In fact, consult two. This article is not legal advice and this article doesn’t constitute an attorney/client relationship.
(Alabama law requires the following: “No representation is made that the quality of legal services performed is greater than other lawyers.”)