France has stopped short of setting a legal age of sexual consent following a heated debate in the National Assembly.
Whilethe lower house of parliament voted on a bill to toughen laws on the rape of children,politicians decided against setting 15 as the minimum age at which at aminor cannot consent to a sexual relationship with an adult.
As a result, there is still no law establishinga legal age of sexual consent in France.
Instead, politicians approved a clausein whichrelations between an adult and a minor under 15 could be classified as rape if “the victim lacks the ability to consent”.
The text now has to be approved by the Senate before it can become law.
Opposition parties criticised President Emmanuel Macron’s LaRepubliqueEn Marcheparty formissing the opportunity place an age of consent into law. Every other party, both left and right voted to do so.
However, the governmentwas recently warnedbyFrance’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, that setting a firm legal age of consent could be seen as violating an adult’s presumption of innocence and as a result it could havedeclared the new law unconstitutional.
Children and women’s rights groupsnonetheless criticised the lack of legislation, pointing to the recent decision by a French court to prosecute twomen for the rape of11-year-old girlsbecause authorities couldn’t prove coercion.
Under the new law judges can rule that a sexual assault has taken place if an adult has abused the vulnerability of someone under the age of 15 and the offender couldfacea maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
However, the new bill will acceptthe possibility that someone aged 15 oryounger, couldbecapable of consentingto sex with anadult, in which case the adult would not be prosecuted.
If consent has not been granted by the minor, then the offender would be prosecuted for rape, an offence punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Campaignerswho demanded a firm age limit for sexual consent said the new law could encourage judges to classify sexual abuses as sexual assaults rather than rapes.
Oppositions groups said the text would “send the wrong signal to society” and “satisfyneither campaign groups nor the judicial spheres,” French newspaper Le Figaro reports.
Writing in left-leaning newspaper Liberation, sociologist Irene Ther said the government should have lowered the proposed minimal age of consent from 15 to 13 and that the vote was “a missedopportunity”.
Representing Mr Macron’s La RepubliqueEn Marche, Dimitri Houbron, told Le Monde: “Maybe we are not going far enough, but this is progress and we want to make sure we have text which is legally strong.”
The bill also introduces a new offence for “sexist abuse” in the public space which includes sexists behaviour, comments on a person’s physique and wolf-whistling with offenders facing a 90 (79) fine.