France announced plans Monday to set 15 as the age of sexual consent amid public outrage over two cases involving sex with 11-year-old girls.
Until now, sex with children under 15 could be prosecuted as a sexual offense, but rape charges could be difficult to prove in such cases because French law required evidence that the sex was forced.
Previously, the law was categorized as sexual abuse of a minor and punishable with a maximum prison term of five years and up to 75,000 euros.
That allowed two men to evade charges of rape, sparking a heated public debate among French lawmakers.
“The government has decided to set the age at 15,” after consultations with a panel of experts, France’s equality minister, Marlène Schiappa, told Agence France-Presse. She said she was “very glad” about the decision.
A French court acquitted a 30-year-old man of rape in November, concluding that the 11-year-old girl had not experienced “constraint, threat, violence or surprise” during the sex act, which is how France had previously defined rape.
In a similar case, a 28-year-old man was charged with sex with a minor, because it was concluded that the victim was not physically forced to have sex. That girl also was 11.
In the second case, the trial court asked that a new trial be held in a higher court, setting off the public debate.
The new law is expected to go into effect as early as next week and will be part of a larger package of legislation intended to reduce sexual violence and harassment. Supporters of more strictly defining what constitutes sex with a minor were adamant that 15, not 13 as some had proposed, should be the age of consent.