For Austria, Germany, Portugal and Italy it is 14, and in France, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Greece it is 15.Spain did have one of the lowest ages of consent on the continent at just 13, but recently agreed to raise this to 16.Throughout the rest of the world, there are big variations.

In China, the age of consent is 14, in Iraq it is 18, while in Japan it is five years lower at 13.

The likes of Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador and Colombia all have it set at 14.

And in some countries - such as Chile - the minimum age of consent is 14, but there are legal restrictions on sexual activities up to the age of 18, and homosexual sex is illegal before that age.

A leading health expert today called for the UK's age of consent to be lowered to 15, saying we need a national debate on the subject of when sex should be allowed.

Professor John Ashton said there was an argument for lowering the age from 16 in an effort to "draw a line in the sand" against sex at 14 or younger.

He said we society gives out "confused" signals about when sex is permitted, and that many 15-year-olds are unsure of where to turn for support.

He said: "My own view is there is an argument for reducing it to 15 but you cannot do it without the public supporting the idea and we need to get a sense of public opinion about this.

"I would not personally argue for 14 but I think we should seriously be looking at 15 so that we can draw a line in the sand and really, as a society, actively discourage sexual involvement under 15.

"By doing that, you would be able legitimately to organise services to meet the need." Prime Minister David Cameron has already rejected the call, with Downing Street saying the age of 16 is designed to protect children.

But is Britain unusual in maintaining the age of consent at 16, and how does we compare to the rest of the world?

In Europe, countries who have the age of consent set at 16 include Cyprus, Finland, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland.