By LE Desk

Paris, March 16: French MPs have unanimously approved a long-awaited draft law to protect children from rape and sexual abuse.

The legislation, drawn up after a series of scandals involving high-profile figures, establishes an age of “non-consent” at 15 under which a child cannot be considered to have willingly engaged in a sexual act. In cases of incest, the age has been set at 18, the Guardian reported.

Around 300 amendments were proposed and discussed, but the law, proposed by Emmanuel Macron’s government, was passed with cross-party support.

The first article of the new law establishes that “any act of sexual penetration of whatever nature” including oral sex, committed by an adult on a person under the age of 15 is considered to be rape.

“In this way, no adult will be able to claim consent from a minor under this age of non-consent,” the minister of justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti, told the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the French parliament.

The penalty for rape, incestuous or not, is set at 20 years in prison.

The draft legislation, which includes new laws covering all acts of sexual assault and abuse of minors, now passes to the upper house, the Sénat, for approval.

To avoid criminalising sex between teenagers and young adults, it includes a so-called “Romeo and Juliet” clause that says punishment should only apply if the difference in age between the adult and the person under 15 is at least five years. This clause would not apply in rape or assault cases.

“I do not want to be sending a kid of 18 before a court because he had a consenting relationship with a girl of 14-and-a-half,” Dupond-Moretti said.

The legislation also proposes an extension to the statute of limitation for the rape of a minor in cases where the adult goes on to rape others, and prison sentences of 10 years and a fine of €150,000 for anyone convicted of inciting children under 15 to commit sexual acts on the internet.

The bill, which will now be considered by a committee made up of MPs and senators, is expected to be passed into law in a matter of weeks.

It was given a particular urgency after Camille Kouchner published her book La Familia Grande, which accused her stepfather Olivier Duhamel, a well-known constitutional expert and media commentator, of sexually abusing her twin brother.

In another high-profile case last year, the prize-winning French writer Gabriel Matzneff, 84, was put under investigation for rape after Vanessa Springora wrote in her book Le Consentement (Consent) that she was groomed into a sexual relationship with him in the mid-1980s when she was 14 and he was 36 years her senior.

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