France toughens law on sex with minors under age 15 | News | DW | 15.04.2021
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France toughens law on sex with minors under age 15

France toughened its age of consent law as the country's parliament approved a legislation that characterizes sex with children under the age of 15 as rape. The legislation was passed unanimously.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex (C) delivers a speech during a debate on whether or not to maintain regional and departmental elections of June 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic at the French National Assembly in Paris, on April 13, 2021.

The bill passed unanimously on Thursday in France's Assemblee Nationale

In a landmark vote, French lawmakers have unanimously adopted a legislation that outlaws sex with a child under the age of 15 as rape.

Under the new legislation, approved on Thursday, sex with children below the age of 15 will be punishable by up to 20 years in jail, unless the age gap between the partners is small. 

While the age of consent in the country was previously 15, prosecutors had to prove the intercourse was non-consensual in order to get a rape conviction. 

The lower house of the parliament, the Assemblee Nationale, voted following a second reading of the bill and the legislation comes after a flurry of sexual abuse and incest allegations rocked the nation, in what has been called France's second #MeToo movement.

The bill originated in the Senate, meaning it has cleared both houses in France.

"This is a 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."

A so-called "Romeo and Juliet" clause will allow for the possibility of consensual sexual relations between a minor and a partner who is up to five years older. However, that clause will not apply to cases of sexual assault. 

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The clause was added to in response to concerns raised by some parliamentarians that an age of consent below which sex would automatically be considered rape would end up criminalizing a sexual relationship between a minor and a young partner of a similar age.

The law also characterizes incestuous sex with anyone under the age of 18 as rape.

France began introducing stricter sex crime laws in 2018 when it criminalized sexual harassment on the streets. With Thursday’s legislation the country's penal code has come closer in line with much of the West.

dvv/msh (AFP, Reuters)