On April 15, the draft law to better protect minors from sexual crimes, offences and incest was unanimously adopted at second reading in the French National Assembly.
This bill establishes an age of “non-consent” at 15, under which a child cannot be considered to have willingly engaged in a sexual act with an adult. In cases of incest, the age has been set at 18.
Introduced by Senator Annick Billon (centrist), the bill should provide children with better protection from sex crimes. Proving that the perpetrator used violence, coercion, threat or surprise for rape charges if the victim is under age 15, (or in the case of incest, under age 18) will no longer be a prerequisite.
The draft legislation establishes that oral-genital acts committed by an adult on a victim under the age of 15 is now considered to be rape. The legislation also proposes an extension to the statute of limitations for the raped in cases where the adult goes on to rape other minors. Adults inciting children under the age of 15 to engage in sexual practices via the Internet can now face prison sentences up to ten years for “sextortion”. In addition, there will be harsher criminal sentences for engaging in prostitution with minors under the age of 15.
Although the bill significantly improves protection for minors, those involved in child protection continue to criticize two clauses.
- The hotly debated “Romeo and Juliet” clause says punishment should only apply if the difference in age between the adult and the person under 15 is at least five years, to avoid criminalizing sex between teenagers and young adults. In a statement on March 25, 2021, the High Council for Equality (HCE) lamented that “the age gap of 5 years established in the law does not seem to sufficiently take into account the discrepancies in relationships between adults and children”. They recommend that the age gap be reduced to 4 years.
- Another highly controversial clause is a condition of de jure or de facto authority in cases of incest committed by someone other than an older family member. According to the association “Faced with Incest” the bill ruins the definition of incest. The association also deplores the “amazing complexity” introduced by this draft legislation “with no less than 7 different categories of offences to fight incest”.