French lawmakers backed a bill late Monday that set the minimum age for sexual consent at 15, marking a major step in a country with traditionally allowed attitudes about sex.
Members of Parliament’s lower house voted unanimously to align France’s consent laws with most other Western countries, following a wave of allegations of sexual abuse and incest described as France’s second #MeToo movement.
According to the bill, sex with children under the age of 15 would be considered rape, which can be punished with up to 20 years in prison, unless there is a slight age difference between the two parties.
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the vote sent a clear message: “Children are out of bounds”.
Under current French law, prosecutors had to prove that a minor was forced, threatened or deceived to have sex with an adult in order to accuse of rape or sexual abuse.
The bill was initiated by members of the Senate, who proposed that the age of consent be 13, which would have been one of the lowest in Europe.
But President Emmanuel Macron’s government pushed for it to be elevated.
>> “Finally”: France tries to set age for consent at 15 years
However, the bill allows sex between a teenager and a young adult up to five years older – a gap that has been criticized by some MPs as too large but which Dupond-Moretti defended, saying he did not want to “put an 18-year-old to trial for he had an affair with a girl aged fourteen and a half. “
The bill, which was subject to about 300 amendments in the lower house, is now returning to the Senate for a final vote.
The law also violates online pedophilia, where anyone caught trying to groom children under the age of 15 for sexual acts over the internet faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros (180,000 dollars).
The issue of consent has been repeatedly discussed since 2018 when it turned out that a 28-year-old man, who had sex with an 11-year-old girl he met in a park, had originally been accused of a minor sexual crime. , not rape.
The case caused a public outcry in France, where sex between adults and minors in the past has often been dismissed as harmless in cases where the meeting was presented as a consensus, usually by the adult.
The country’s highest court of appeal is this week set to decide another case concerning allegations of child abuse.
The case was brought by a woman named “Julie” in press reports, who claim that she was raped by over 20 firefighters when she was 13-15 years old and repeatedly in hospital for severe anxiety attacks.
In France, the ambulance service is staffed by firefighters.
The accused claimed that she consented to sex, which she denies.