Is it true that France has no age of consent for sex?

As France faces up to several high profile cases of child sexual abuse, there are calls to change the law in this area. But is it true that there is no official age of consent in France?

Is it true that France has no age of consent for sex?
Campaigners in France have long called for an overhaul of the law. Photo: AFP

French society has been reeling over revelations of high-profile child sexual abuse cases, some of which involved incest.

Among the responses has been that of Children and Families Minister Adrien Taquet and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, who want to create a new criminal offence around this.


What is the law at present?

Unlike countries like the UK and USA which have offences of unlawful sexual intercourse or statutory rape, in France you cannot be convicted of rape based purely on age.

Many countries' legal codes specify that children below a certain age cannot legally give consent to sex, so having sex with a person below that age is automatically rape, with no need to prove force or coercion.

In France this is not the case, and a person having sex with a child can only be convicted of rape if prosecutors can prove violence, coercion, threat or surprise – the same criteria needed to prove rape of an adult victim.

Instead people having sex with children can be prosecuted for the lesser offence of having sex with a minor, which carries much lighter penalties than rape – six months to five years in jail as opposed to the 20-year jail term that is the maximum for offences of rape.

What is the proposed change?

Taquet's proposed bill, after a consultation, would make any sexual penetration of a person under the age of 15 a crime, without the need to prove coercion or violence.

This is a looser definition than many countries have, as prosecutors would need to prove that penetration took place, rather than non-penetrative sexual activity.

The proposed bill also includes the necessity of an age gap of at least five years, in order not to criminalise sexual relationships between teenagers where one is older than 15 and the other is not.

This bill is at the proposal stage, so still needs to pass through several hurdles including debates on both houses of parliament before it can become law.

It's 2021, how is this law not already in force?

There have been previous attempts to set a formal age for lawful sexual intercourse in France, including a bill brought by the former equalities minister Marlène Schiappa in 2018. The bill, part of a package of measures on sexual violence, originally included a provision that all sex with a person below the age of 15 would be classified as rape.

However by the time the bill came before parliament this had been watered down and included only the provision of a new offence of 'sexual penetration of a person under the age of 15' which carried a lesser penalty than rape.

The bill was brought after two cases where men escaped prosecution for rape after having sex with girls aged 11 and the dropping of the bill sparked widespread anger around France.

Is this a major problem in France?

There's no reason to think that France has more of a problem with child sexual abuse than any other country, but several recent high-profile cases have broken through a long-standing culture of silence around child abuse.

Two recent books have helped spark debate – one written by Vanessa Springora describing her abuse while a teenager at the hands of prize-winning writer Gabriel Matzneff and the other by Camille Kouchner alleging incestuous sexual abuse of her twin brother by high-profile political commentator Olivier Duhamel.

In both cases, the women say that the abuse was known about in the intellectual and social circles in which the men moved. Shortly after Kouchner's book came out, the intellectual Alain Finkielkraut, interviewed about the case on TV, mused about the 'consent' and 'reciprocity' between the teenage boy and his stepfather.

His comments drew an angry response from, among many others, Taquet, who tweeted: “In what world do you live Alain Finkielkraut? Are you really talking about consent between a teenager and a family member? You maintain the silence and the feelings of guilt of the child by suggesting that some form of reciprocity is possible.”



Member comments

  1. As mentioned in this article, in the UK, a person who has sex with a minor is automatically accused as rape. And that is how it should be. Even if the minor says that they wanted to have sex, it is forbidden.
    I’m absolutely appalled that France accepts that sex with a minor may be considered consensual. It’s absolutely shocking and I hope this law changes asap.

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France’s Le Pen ordered to stand trial in EU funding scandal

French prosecutors on Friday ordered far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen to stand trial over claims she used EU funds to finance party activities in France.

France's Le Pen ordered to stand trial in EU funding scandal

The former presidential candidate will in March be joined by 26 other members of the Rassemblement National (RN) party in the dock, all accused of setting up a system for embezzling EU money to hire staff in France.

The fake jobs inquiry began in 2015, with prosecutors alleging that starting in 2004, National Front (as the party was then called) MEPs including Le Pen took part in the fake jobs scheme.

The accused include Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the co-founder of what became France’s most successful far-right party.

The party itself, as a legal entity, is suspected of receiving illicit funds, and of complicity in fraud.

Marine Le Pen was runner-up to Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 and 2022 presidential elections and could have another go in 2027. She was president of her party until 2021, and now leads its parliamentary group.

The charges against her are embezzlement and collusion in fraud.

The decision to go to trial was taken by two investigating magistrates from France’s financial crimes prosecuting unit.

The group is accused of using EU parliamentary funds to pay for assistants who in fact worked for the Rassemblement National party.

Le Pen, who stepped down as an MEP in 2017 after her election to the French parliament, has denied the claims.

The charges carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to double the alleged funds embezzled.

If convicted, the court could also declare Le Pen ineligible for office for up to 10 years – threatening her plan to make a fourth run for the French presidency.

The EU Parliament estimated in 2018 that €6.8 million had been embezzled from 2009 to 2017.