‘Historic law’: France outlaws sex with children aged under 15

Paris: The French parliament on Thursday adopted legislation that characterises sex with a child under the age of 15 as rape and punishable by up to 20 years in jail, bringing its penal code closer in line with many other Western nations.

While the age of consent was previously 15, prosecutors in France used to be required to prove sex was non-consensual to obtain a rape conviction.

An activist holding a banner reading: “For him impunity, for her a life sentence” during a protest in Paris after a 2017 sexual assault case the court refused to upgrade to rape. Credit:AP

“This is an historic law for our children and our society,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told the National Assembly.

“No adult aggressor will be able to claim the consent of a minor younger than 15-years-old.”

The vote in favour of the bill was unanimous at its final reading, the Assembly said on Twitter.

There had been concerns from some lawmakers that an age of consent below which sex automatically constituted rape might criminalise a consensual sexual relationship between a minor and a person only a few years older.

As a consequence, a “Romeo and Juliet” clause that allows for sexual relations between a minor and an individual up to five years older. The clause will not apply in cases of sexual assault.

The legislation also considers incestuous sex with a minor under 18 to be rape.

In a country that has long cherished its self-image as the land of seduction and romance, sexual abuse against women and children for years went undetected or undeclared in the upper
echelons of power and within celebrity circles.

But there has been much soul-searching in recent years.

The #MeToo movement that swept around the world after numerous women in 2017 accused US movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault proved a turning point in France. So
too did the fall from grace in 2020 of a French writer who had written openly about his paedophilia.

France had already toughened its sex crimes laws in 2018 when it outlawed sexual harassment on the streets, leaving cat-callers and aggressively lecherous individuals facing potential on-the-spot fines.

In 2017, French court ruled against upgrading charges against from sexual assault to rape in a case involving three firefighters accused of having sex with a teenage girl.

The victim accused the firefighters of repeatedly raping her more than a decade ago, when she was between 13 and 15-years-old. The accused men have acknowledged they had sex with her, but insist the activity was consensual.

The case helped fuel efforts to set a legal age of sexual consent in France.


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