France Decides That Sex With Child Under 15 Is Automatically Rape

April 17, 2021 Updated: April 17, 2021

PARIS—The French parliament on Thursday adopted legislation that characterizes sex with a child under the age of 15 as rape and punishable by up to 20 years in jail, bringing its penal code closer in line with many other Western nations.

Sex between an adult and a child younger than 15 was already illegal but could only be prosecuted as rape if there was proof the minor was coerced through violence, constraint, or surprise. Without proof of coercion, it was prosecuted as the lesser offense of a “sexual act on a minor.”

“This is a historic law for our children and our society,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told the National Assembly.

“No adult aggressor will be able to claim the consent of a minor younger than 15-years-old.”

The vote in favor of the bill was unanimous at its final reading, the Assembly said on Twitter.

There had been concerns from some lawmakers that an age of consent below which sex automatically constituted rape might criminalize a consensual sexual relationship between a minor and a person only a few years older.

As a consequence, a “Romeo and Juliet” clause allows for sexual relations between a minor and an individual up to five years older. The clause will not apply in cases of sexual assault.

The legislation also considers incestuous sex with a minor under 18 to be rape.

France had already toughened its sex crimes laws in 2018 when it outlawed sexual harassment on the streets, leaving cat-callers and aggressively lecherous individuals facing potential on-the-spot fines.