07 March, 2018
France's government has proposed setting a formal age of sexual consent after two-high profile cases involving 11-year-old girls, according to the country's Equality Minister.
The new plans are to change the legal age of sexual consent to 15-years-old, meaning that any sex between an adult and a child of under 15 will be considered rape.
Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa welcomed the move, which follows advice from doctors and legal experts.
While the punishment for rape when a victim is younger than 15 carries a heftier penalty under French law (20 years), prosecutors must prove that the sex was forced.
Sexual abuse of a minor carries at most five years in prison and a fine equivalent to $93,000 in the USA, while rape of a minor carries 20 years imprisonment. Instead, the men were charged with sexual abuse of a minor, a lesser charge.
A 30-year-old man was acquitted of rape after a court ruled his 11-year-old victim had not been subjectde to "constraint, threat, violence or surprise".
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In the other case, charges against a 28-year-old man, also accused of raping an 11-year-old girl, were downgraded to "sexual relations with a minor", according toFrench news agency AFP.
"Since then lawmakers and child-protection groups have been urging the government to set a minimum age of consent, as is the case in many European countries, with suggested ages ranging from 13 to 15".
In the United Kingdom the age of sexual consent is 16, but children under the age of 13 have additional legal protections that declare they can never consent to sexual activity.
But the same court reversed its decision last month, saying the accused should face rape charges.
Speaking previously Schiappa said: "The law will mean that "below a certain age, there can be no debate, ever, on the sexual consent of a child, and that any child below a certain age would automatically be considered as raped or sexually assaulted". The limit is also supported by President Emmanuel Macron.
Lawmakers hope this proposal, which is part of a bill aimed at reducing sexual violence in the country, will be implemented in the coming weeks.