France to set legal age of sexual consent at 15

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France has no legal age of consent, meaning there is no such concept as "statutory rape" - it only has an "age of sexual majority", set at 15.

Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa told reporters that "the government has chose to set the age at 15", after widespread criticism broke out against the laws that allowed two men to escape rape charges following sexual misconduct with underage girls.

But prosecutors hoping to charge an offender with rape must prove the sex was forced, a more complicated question when pre-teens are involved. She said a new law would be presented to France's equivalent of a cabinet on March 21.

Two adult men were accused of having sex with two 11-year-olds who were considered consenting under French law. Instead, the men were charged with sexual abuse of a minor, a lesser charge.

The government of France has announced that it will institute a minimum age of consent, after two high-profile rape cases highlighted its absence from the nation's laws.

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Schiappa said she was "very glad" that the government had chosen 15, as recommended by a panel of doctors and legal experts, an age long sought by associations fighting violence against children. President Emmanuel Macron, among others, argued for it to be older. However, adult sex with a minor younger than 15 is classified as sexual assault or molesting, punishable by up to five years in prison, compared with 20 years in prison for rape.

Last November the country was left shocked when a 30-year-old man who had sex with an 11 year old girl was acquitted of rape, after the court found that she had not been the subject of "constraint, threat, violence, or surprise".

The new age limit is part of a series of laws aimed at combating sexual violence and sexism, which will be approved by the French government later this month.

"The Bill will contain a clause stating an age limit below which it will always be deemed that a child was forced", Schiappa said, supporting the reform.

But the same court reversed its decision last month, saying the accused should indeed face rape charges.

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