France wants to set 15 as minimum age for sexual consent

Lawmakers and child-protection groups have been urging the government to set a minimum age of consent as is the case in many European countries with suggested ages ranging from 13 to 15

France plans to fix the legal age of sexual consent as 15, meaning sex with someone younger than that would be considered rape.

Last year, a 30-year-old man was acquitted of rape after a court decided that an 11-year-old he had sex with was not subjected to "constraint, threat, violence or surprise".

Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa welcomed the move, which follows advice from doctors and legal experts.

The announcement was made by France's Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa on Monday and will mean that any adult engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of 15 can be prosecuted.

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 Council of Ministers - France's equivalent of a cabinet - on March 21.

In another case involving an 11-year-old girl, a 28-year-old man was charged with sexual relations with a minor, rather than rape, a decision that angered the child's family.

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Schiappa told reporters she was "very glad" that the government chose to formalize the age of consent, a move that she hopes will combat the prevalence of rape culture in France.

Officials had previously mulled setting the age at 13, but some, including President Emmanuel Macron, had argued for it to be older.

Sentences are the same for sexual assaults of minors and non-minors, but rape convictions carry much harsher punishments.

"But last month the court reversed course and said the [28-year-old] man should indeed face rape charges, though it asked for the trial to be moved to a higher court".

The law is part of a group of new laws aimed at reducing France's levels of sexual violence and sexism.

Under other legal codes (including that of the United States), "forcible rape" is defined as someone forcing another into having sex against their will, while "statutory rape" is sex with someone who may have been willing, but who is not considered qualified to give legal consent because of age.

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