Anger in France as government ditches plan to set age of sexual consent at 15

There was anger in France this week after the government dropped its plan to set a minimum age of sexual consent after a public outcry over two cases of sex involving 11-year-old girls.

Anger in France as government ditches plan to set age of sexual consent at 15

In March Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa announced to widespread support that the government planned to make 15 the age of sexual consent after a public outcry over two cases of sex involving 11-year-old girls. 

After public consultations and the recommendation of a panel of experts, “the government has decided to set the age at 15,” Schiappa told AFP in March.

But things have changed since then.

In the end the plan to introduce a legal minimum age of consent into law which would have classed any sexual act by an adult with a child younger than 15 as rape rather than just a sexual offence as is the case currently, was dropped from the bill that was voted through parliament on Tuesday night.

Instead of introducing a minimum age of consent the bill creates a new offence of “sexual violation of a minor by penetration”.

This will be punishable by 10 years in prison, which is a shorter sentence than the 15 to 20 years reserved for rape offences, which are classed as “any acts of sexual penetration committed on someone with violence, coercion, threat or surprise”.

The new wording of the new offense states that “when the acts are committed on a minor of 15 or less”, surprise or coercion can be “characterised by the abuse of the victim’s vulnerability, who doesn’t have the necessary discernment to consent”.

But critics, of which there were many both in parliament and on social media channels, believe the new offense muddies the waters and is far less clear than setting a minimum age of consent.

They fear offenders will able to get away with a lighter sentence after committing an act of penetration on a minor if “surprise and coercion” cannot be proved.

MPs from all sides blasted the bill as “ambiguous” and ” disappointing” and one that “sends the wrong message to society”.

And on Monday a petition was published online titled “Rape is a crime” and has since gained 100,000 signatures.

The plan to introduce a strict minimum age was dropped due to concerns it would undermine the defendant's presumption of innocence and be unconstitutional.

Schiappa, who had previously said she was “very glad” that the government had chosen 15 as the age of consent, dismissed the anger at the U-turn and insisted the new bill would better protect minors.

The issue was brought to the fore after critics and lawmakers said French laws had allowed two men to escape rape charges when they were accused of sex with underage girls.

The new article is part of a package of laws aimed at curbing sexual violence and sexism.

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Paris fined €90k for having ‘too many women in charge’

Paris city authorities have been fined for employing too many women in senior positions, a decision mocked as 'absurd' by mayor Anne Hidalgo on Tuesday.

Paris fined €90k for having 'too many women in charge'
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo says she will deliver the fine for being 'too feminist' in person. Photo: AFP

The fine of €90,000 was demanded by France's public service ministry on the grounds that Paris city hall had broken national rules on gender parity in its 2018 staffing.

“I am happy to announce that we have been fined,” Hidalgo told a city council meeting, adding she had been filled with “joy” when she learned of the penalty.

Hidalgo said she was faulted because 11 women and only five men were named to management positions in city hall in 2018, meaning that 69 percent of the appointments went to women.

“The management of the city hall has, all of a sudden, become far too feminist,” laughed the Socialist, who was re-elected for a new term at the helm of Paris last year.

According to the text of the ruling cited by Le Monde daily, city hall violated a rule dating to 2013, which stipulates that one sex should not account for more than 60 of nominations to management positions.

Hidalgo said that she would take the cheque for the fine to the government in person, along with her deputy mayors and all the women working for her.

Taking a more serious tone, she added: “This fine is obviously absurd, unfair, irresponsible and dangerous”, adding that women in France should be promoted with “vigour because the lag everywhere in France is still very great”.

“Yes, to one day achieve parity, we must speed up the tempo and ensure that more women are appointed than men,” she said.

Responding on Twitter, France's Public Service Minister Amelie de Montchalin from the ruling TREM party acknowledged that the fine had been levied for 2018.

Since then the “absurd” rule on parity in management had been repealed, she noted.

“I want the fine paid by Paris for 2018 to finance concrete actions to promote women in the public service. I invite you to the ministry to discuss them!,” she said in a message to Hidalgo.