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.
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.