The lower house of the French Parliament on Monday voted unanimously to make the minimum threshold age of sexual consent 15 years. Under current law, consent may be obtained from a sexual partner regardless of age, including children. Also under current law, prosecutors must 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.”
In the past few years, public outcry over numerous sexual scandals and offenses have added to the pressure on the government to enact change. A prominent academic resigned from his post at a top university in Paris following allegations that he had sexually abused his stepson. In 2018, a 28-year-old man who had sex with an 11-year-old girl that he met in a park was not initially charged with rape. That case “caused a public outcry in France, where sex between adults and minors has previously often been shrugged off as harmless in cases where the encounter was presented as consensual, usually by the adult.”
Under the new law, sexual activity with a minor under the age of 15 is punishable by 20 years in prison. The bill also includes a provision that criminalizes incest. A “Romeo and Juliet” clause in the bill means that teenagers are still able to have consensual sex, provided that the age gap is no more than five years. The bill will be presented to the Senate this month and is expected to get final approval in April.
While some lawmakers wanted the age of consent to be set at 13 years old, the government fought for a higher threshold. The new legislation will align the French criminal code with that of most other Western countries.
Of the bill, French Justice Minister Éric Dupont-Moretti stated: “children are off-limits.”