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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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SPORT

French cities refuse to set up big screens for World Cup matches

Many of France's big cities have decided not to set up big screens or fan zones for the football World Cup in November - a decision taken in protest at the human rights record of host country Qatar.

French cities refuse to set up big screens for World Cup matches

Weeks ahead the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, authorities in several French cities – including Paris – have already announced that they will boycott the event by not showing any matches on big screens (écran géant)  or by creating fan zones, although bars and restaurants can still decide to screen matches.

Paris

France’s capital will not show matches from the World Cup in Qatar on giant screens, partly due to the “conditions” of the tournament, the city’s current deputy mayor for sports, Pierre Rabadan, told AFP on Monday.   

Rabadan told AFP: “For us, there was no question of setting up big screen areas for several reasons: the first is the conditions in which this World Cup has been organised, both in terms of the environment and the social aspect. The second is the fact that it takes place in December.”

Bordeaux

Bordeaux’s mayor, a member of the Green Party, Pierre Humic, said on RMC (the French sports radio channel), that his city will also boycott the event by not installing any big screens. According to BFMTV, Humic planned to finalise his decision on Tuesday, during the city council meeting.

“We, the mayors, are currently concerned about broadcasting [the World Cup] on big screens in our cities. And it is our role to say that we do not want to be complicit in this energy waste,” Humic said on RMC.

Humic clarified that bars and restaurants could nevertheless broadcast the competition throughout the city at their own discretion. “I am not the director of conscience of Bordeaux,” he said.

“Everyone can respond as they wish. And far be it from me to impose my point of view on anyone. I am very respectful of individual freedoms.”

Lille

In the north of France, giant screens will remain turned off too. On Friday night, Lille’s city council formalised their decision not screen matches.

Mayor, Martine Aubry, tweeted her disapproval for the World Cup in Qatar, calling it “nonsense in terms of human rights, the environment and sport.” 

Additionally, the deputy Mayor, Arnaud Deslandes, said that the city will not create fanfare around an “event we refuse to support.”

However, at least a dozen bars in the city plan to broadcast the World Cup, though some told Franceinfo they will abstain.

READ MORE: ‘Allez putain!’: French phrases you need for watching the 2022 World Cup

One such bar is “O’Mulligan’s,” run by manager Justine Chambrillion.

Chambrillon told Franceinfo that the establishment welcomed over 800 customers during the 2018 World Cup, but this year they will not air it. The manager said it would be “absurd to rejoice in a sporting event that has caused thousands of deaths, that flouts human rights, and that has a completely disastrous ecological impact.”

Marseille

The Mediterranean city announced previously that it would not set up fanzones or giant screens prior to the finals, at which time they would only do so if the French team qualified. However, on October 3rd, local authorities said they have decided not to install any giant screens, regardless of the performance of the French team.

“The City of Marseille is committed to an ever fairer and more inclusive practice of sport. Marseille, which is strongly attached to the values of sharing and solidarity in sport and committed to building a greener city, cannot contribute to the promotion of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,” the city said in a statement.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s mayor, Jeanne Barseghian, a member of the Green Party said during the city council meeting on Monday that “there are no plans for public screenings concerning the World Cup, because the City of Strasbourg will not broadcast the 2022 World Cup organised by Qatar.”

Elaborating on the decision, Barseghian told France 3 Alsace that: “It is impossible for us not to listen to the numerous alerts from NGOs denouncing the abuse and exploitation of immigrant workers. Strasbourg, the European capital and seat of the European Court of Human Rights, cannot decently support these abuses.”

Several other French cities and smaller towns, including Nancy, Reims and Rodez, have also decided on a boycott, with others likely to follow. 

Human rights

The issue of human rights is central to many cities’ and individuals’ choices to boycott the Qatar World Cup, namely the treatment of migrant workers who were hired to build much of its infrastructure.

NGOs such as Human Rights Watch allege the “Kafala system” – defined by the Council on Foreign Relations as a sponsorship programme “that gives private citizens and companies in Jordan, Lebanon, and most Arab Gulf countries almost total control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status” – leaves migrants vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. 

Specifically, many have expressed concern over the number of workers who have died or been injured in the construction of the World Cup. As of 2021, at least 6,500 migrant workers involved in the construction of the World Cup had died in Qatar, according to The Guardian after consulting data from the embassies of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

However, Human Rights Watch reported that the true numbers are likely higher, “because there are a dozen more countries sending migrant workers to Qatar, including the Philippines, Kenya, and Ghana.”

Qatari authorities have said that there have only been three deaths at World Cup stadiums in work accidents.

Others have expressed concern regarding the rights of LGBT people attending the tournament, as homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.

After one high profile athlete came out, he said he would like to play in the World Cup, but was worried about his safety in doing so. 

In response to questioning about the safety of footballers – and fans – the head of the “social and human legacy initiative” for the tournament, Nasser Al-Khori, said to SBS news that the country is “modernising, but in our own sort of way, sticking to our identity, our culture, our roots.” He added “We welcome everybody, but we also expect and want people to respect our culture” when asked about visitors and players from the LGBT community, a comment that has been met with backlash from rights groups.

Environmental impacts

Several French public officials have discussed their dissatisfaction over the environmental impacts of the 2022 World Cup. 

Dezeen reported that the tournament will generate “more emissions than the whole country of Iceland emits in a year.” 

According to a report published by organisers of the FIFA 2022 World Cup, the event will emit 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The tournament will run from November 20th to December 18th.

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