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France sets age of sexual consent at 15 in ‘historic step’

France's parliament adopted legislation on Thursday setting the minimum age of sexual consent at 15.

France sets age of sexual consent at 15 in 'historic step'
Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

The Assemblée nationale gave the legislation unanimous final approval following a wave of allegations of sexual abuse and incest described as France’s second #MeToo movement.

Sex with children under 15 is to be considered rape, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, unless there is a small age gap between the two partners.

The move brings France in line with most other Western countries following years of campaigning by abuse victims.

In cases of incest, the age of consent will be 18.

“We do not touch children,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said.

“No adult aggressor will be able to rely on the consent of a minor” under 15, he added, calling it a “historic step.”

Under previous French law, prosecutors had to prove that a minor was forced, threatened or tricked into having sex with an adult in order to bring charges of rape or sexual assault. if this could not be proved only the charge of sexual relations with a minor, which carries much lower penalties, was available.

The new law was initiated by members of the Senate, who had suggested the age of consent be set at 13, which would have been one of the lowest in Europe.

But President Emmanuel Macron’s government pushed for it to be set higher.

The legislation does allow for sex between a teen and a young adult up to five years older – the so-called ‘Romeo and Juliet clause’ was criticised by some MPs as too large but which Dupond-Moretti has defended.

The justice minister has said he did not want “to put a youngster aged 18 on trial because he had consensual sex with a girl aged fourteen-and-a-half.”

The bill was the subject of some 300 amendments in the lower house National Assembly.

The issue of consent has repeatedly come up for debate since 2018 when it emerged that a 28-year-old man, who had sex with an 11-year-old girl he met in a park, had initially been charged with a lesser sexual offence, not rape.

The case caused a public outcry in France. The issue of child sexual abuse also exploded on to the front pages in France in January after the daughter of former foreign minister Bernard Kouchner published a book accusing her step-father, prominent political commentator Olivier Duhamel, of having abused her twin brother as a child.

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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