France Debates Dropping Minimum Legal Age for Sexual Consent to 13


In the midst of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Hollywood executives and politicians, France is proposing a novel antidote to child sex abuse: make the children into consenting adults.

Currently, the legal age of sexual majority in France is 15, but a new bill put forward by the French government looks to set the minimum limit for sexual consent still lower. On Monday, the French Minister of Justice, Nicole Belloubet, said that the age of 13 years could be a reasonable limit.

Thirteen is a “conceivable limit” for the upcoming legislation, she stated, with the caveat that judges should be able to rule whether someone was old enough to give consent in particular situations.

“The question of the age below which the minor’s consent is presumed not to exist is crucial, because there are obviously extremely shocking and unacceptable situations,” Ms. Belloubet said.

Two recent court cases have revived the debate on the minimum age of consent in the case of sexual relations between an adult and a minor. On 7 November, the Assize Court of Seine-et-Marne acquitted a 30-year-old man on charges of raping an 11-year-old girl.

A similar decision was handed down in April in Val-d’Oise, where the charges were modified from “rape” to “sexual assault,” since according to French law rape requires “violence, coercion, threat or surprise,” and these had been absent. In both cases, judges held that there had been valid consent on the part of the younger party, despite their age.

In France, the law fixes the age of sexual majority at 15 years, and a minor over the age of 15 is able to legally engage in sexual relations even with an adult without the latter being prosecuted.

The current law says that an adult who performs a consensual sexual act with a person under the age of 15 can be prosecuted for sexual abuse but not for rape. Any sexual act committed between a minor under the age of 15 and an adult is defined by the Penal Code as a sexual offense, regardless of the circumstances.

The concepts of sexual majority and age of consent vary from country to country. A large number of national laws provide for a “sexual majority” between the ages of 15 and 18. In the United States, the age varies from 15 to 17 depending on the state.

Marlene Schiappa, a junior minister for gender equality, said Sunday that the cut-off could be between the ages of 13 and 15.

“Below a certain age, it is considered that there can be no debate on the sexual consent of a child, and that any child below a certain age would automatically be considered to be raped or sexually assaulted,” Ms. Schiappa said.

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