Sex with under-15s constitutes rape under new French legislation

·3-min read

French lawmakers have given their final approval to legislation that defines sex with a child under the age of 15 as rape, without having to prove absence of consent. It follows a wave of allegations of sexual abuse and incest in France.

In its second reading of the bill, members of the lower house voted unanimously on Thursday to bring France’s laws concerning the age of consent in line with most other Western countries.

Under existing French law, prosecutors have to prove that a minor was forced, threatened or tricked into having sex with an adult in order to obtain a rape conviction.

But the new legislation means that sex with children under 15 will be considered rape, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, unless there is a small age gap between the two partners.

The legislation also makes it illegal for an adult to have sex with a relative aged under 18.

And it cracks down on online paedophilia. Anyone caught trying to groom children aged under 15 for sexual acts over the internet faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros.

"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". It sends out a clear message that “children are off-limits”.

Contested Romeo and Juliette clause

The draft law was initiated by members of the Senate, who had proposed 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.

Some lawmakers had expressed concern that an age of consent below which sex automatically constituted rape could criminalise a consensual sexual relationship between a minor and a person only a few years older.

As a result, a so called "Romeo and Juliet" clause was added which allows for sex between a teen and a young adult up to five years older. The clause will not apply in cases of sexual assault.

Some defenders of children’s rights and activists in the #MeTooInceste movement reject the clause. Cases of incest do not always involve force and critics say the new legislation would still allow an 18-year-old grooming a 13-year-old sibling to have sex to escape rape charges.

Facing up to incest

Thursday's vote comes in the wake of a number of incest and sexual abuse scandals in the upper echelons of power and within celebrity circles and which had gone undetected or undeclared for years.

In 2020, French writer Gabriel Matzneff, who had written openly about his paedophilia, was investigated on rape charges.

Olivier Duhamel, one of France’s most prominent intellectuals, was recently brought down after he was accused of sexually abusing his stepson.

Duhamel admitted to the allegations on Tuesday in an interview with a special police unit that investigates crimes committed against minors, sources close to the inquiry told AFP.

In February the head of the prestigious Sciences Po university resigned over a scandal involving incest.

(with AFP)