The French parliament has adopted legislation that defines sex with minors as rape and carries a punishment of up to 20 years in jail. "This is a historic law for our children and our society. No adult aggressor will be able to claim the consent of a minor younger than 15-years-old", Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told the National Assembly, commenting on the news.
The approval of both houses of parliament means the bill has become a law. While sex with a minor was previously prohibited in France, according to the old legislation, a minor could consent to sex, which resulted in minor punishments for adults. Moreover, the previous legislation made it difficult for prosecutors to indict an individual on rape charges as they had to prove that sex was nonconsensual.
For comparison, legal codes in other countries specify that rape is when an adult has sex with a person below the age of consent. The newly adopted law in France characterises sex with a child under 15 the same way.
However, parliamentarians introduced a provision to the law that the local press dubbed "the Romeo and Juliet clause" in order to prevent the criminalisation of sex between teenagers who are in a relationship. Sexual acts between a couple where one is under 15 and the other is not will not be punished by the law. The law makes exceptions for individuals with a five-age gap.
In recent years, there have been multiple calls for the government to toughen the law on sexual abuse and sexual harassment, but the authorities only introduced a system of on-the-spot fines for catcallers. However, the publication of a memoir by Camille Kouchner, the daughter of France's former Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, led to a public outcry. Kouchner claimed her stepdad Olivier Duhamel, one of the most acclaimed political scientists in France, molested her twin brother.
Since the publication multiple people have spoken out against high-profile figures in France, accusing them of incestuous sex or sexual abuse, while thousands of people took to social media to speak about their experience of being a victim of sexual violence.