Nicole Belloubet, France’s justice minister, angered feminist groups this week when he said that a legal age of 13 for sexual consent would be “worth considering”.
France is in the midst of a heated debate surrounding changes to its laws on sexual consent — the age of consent in the country is currently 15.
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The minister of equality between women and men, Marlene Schiappa, said the government wanted to decide on a fixed age limit, below which sex would automatically be considered non-consensual.
However, the threshold is proving difficult to determine amongst politicians and there is no internationally recognised age.
The legal age of consent varies from 11 to 21 years old from country to country around the world and it tends to be around 16 years-old.
Germany and the UK have thresholds at 14 and 16 respectively, while in Bahrain it is 21. The lowest in the world is Nigeria at 11. The US comes in at 16.
Age limits exist around the world to protect individuals who are not yet legally or emotionally competent to consent to sexual intercourse.
The discussion in France comes after two cases in recent weeks, where French courts failed to prosecute men for rape after having sex with 11 year-old girls, because there was no proof of coercion.
In one of the cases, prosecutors said there had been “no violence, no coercion, no threat and no surprise” to constitute a rape charge and therefore ruled the 11 year old had consented.
Feminist groups gathered on Tuesday in front of the ministry of justice to condemn the courts decisions and argue for the age of consent to be set at 15.
Caroline de Haas, a French feminism activist said:
We want the law to guarantee that before 15 there is no concept of consent.
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The French penal code currently defines rape on the same terms for all victims, regardless of their age.
Sexual acts are only considered rape is they are committed with the use of “violence, coercion, threat or surprise”.
A person who commits a sexual act without these four criteria, irrespective of age, is charged with sexual abuse and can receive five years imprisonment and a €75,000 fine.
Amongst many other members of the government, Schiappa is in favour of an amendment of the law, to establish a non-consent threshold.
Schiappa thinks the age for indisputable consent being debated is between 13 and 15.
The French so-called high council for equality has proposed 13 years of age and pointed to a minor being able to be incarcerated at this age, suggesting that if they could be jailed, they would also have the “maturity to grant their consent to sexual relations”.
Pyschiatrist Roland Coutanceau said that 13 was “the statistical age of puberty” and:
13 years is a possible limit. The judge must also be able to assess the individual situations, but the age of 13 is worth considering.
Alice Collet, a member of the National Collective for Women’s Rights, labelled Belloubet’s comments “a sign of ignorance”.
Many other members of the government, along with the activists, demand the threshold at 15 years.