France’s Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa has announced that the government has decided to set the age of consent at 15. Unlike in many neighboring countries, French laws treat sex with minors as rape only in cases when prosecution manages to prove that the intercourse was forced – that coercion, threat, violence or surprise was used. If the court acknowledges that it was consensual, the punishment for sex with a minor can drop from 20 years in prison to 5.
This provision has resulted in uproar in France after controversial decisions in several child sex cases. A 30-year- old man was found innocent of rape for having sex with a girl, who at the time was 11-year-old, later giving birth to a child. The defense insisted that the act was consensual and the girl lied about her age, claiming that she was older than 15.
In another case, a man, who is now 28, has faced charges of sexual assault rather than rape, which has enraged the family and public. Although the court later admitted that the man should be charged for rape, it lingered make the ruling and asked to move the trial to a higher court. Around that time a French teacher also got a suspended jail sentence rather than a prison term for sex with a 14-year-old student.
Introducing a consent age has been discussed as part of a government bill against sexual and sexist violence. This is set to be approved by the government of Emmanuel Macron, who is himself married to his former teacher, in the coming weeks.
Suggestions from lawmakers and groups fighting violence against children ranged from 13 to 15 years old as the age of emotional maturity, ages adopted by other European countries. Schiappa told the media that she was “very glad” that the max. 15 years, recommended by doctors and legal experts, as well as advocated of child-protection associations.