Following up on President Emmanuel Macron's election campaign promises to get tough on sexual violence and sexism, the National Assembly voted in favour of tougher punishments for rape and sexual abuse against minors, an extension of the limitation period for the prosecution of certain crimes and a crackdown on sexual harassment.
The changes come in the wake of a public outcry over two cases in which two men escaped rape charges when they were accused of sex with underage girls.
Any sexual act by an adult with a child younger than 15 can be prosecuted as a sexual offence under current French law.
But prosecutors hoping to charge an offender with rape must prove the sex was forced, a more complicated question when pre-teens are involved.
In November, a 30-year-old man was acquitted of the rape of an 11-year-old girl after the court determined she had not been subjected to “constraint, threat, violence or surprise”.
In another case involving an 11-year-old girl, a 28-year-old man had faced charges of sexual relations with a minor, rather than rape — a decision that enraged the girl's family.
Under the new legislation, it will be easier for judges to establish rape.
The bill also extends from 20 years to 30 years the period of limitation for the prosecution of sex crimes against minors.
In March Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa announced to widespread support that the government planned to make 15 the age of sexual consent after the public outcry over the two cases of sex involving 11-year-old girls.
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”.