A screengrab of a Your News Wire article

No, a law in France did not 'legalize' pedophilia

Articles in multiple languages and shared thousands of times on social media claim that France will "decriminalize sex with children" and "normalize pedophilia" under a law passed in August 2018. But this is false--existing laws prohibiting sexual relationships with children still stand. The new law tightens rules on sex with minors, but stops short of creating a legal age of consent.

An article in Your News Wire, shared more than 19,000 times, says that France has abandoned an age of consent and is moving "toward the decrimilization of sex with children".

Other websites reposted all or part of the Your News Wire article, including Prepare for Change, which saw its page shared more than 9,000 times, and the Geller Report, which included a short original paragraph claiming the Schiappa law was pro-pedophilia and had been passed due to "France's capitulation and Islamization."

Similar stories written in Spanish, including one titled, "France opens the door to pedophilia," which was shared more than 14,000 times on Facebook, reported "the recently approved law confirms that the penetration of a child by an adult can not be rape, so it couldn’t be a crime and wouldn’t be penalized."

Marlene Schiappa, France's gender equality minister, has pushed back against what she called "fake news" circulating about the law and denied that it created a loophole for pedophilia.

"I have to refute the fact that we have legalized pedophilia," she said during this August 28 Facebook Live interview. She also rejected claims that the law would establish "sex classes" in school.

A look at some of the claims made about the law on social media.

- No, France has not legalized pedophilia

As this government website explains, "A minor victim of pedophilia or sexual aggression committed by adults has special protections." This means that more serious penalties are applied when a victim is underage. Pedophilia has not been "legalized" in any situation.

No, four-year-olds will not attend sex education classes

The supposed courses are not found in the text of the Schiappa law, nor are they included in the country's published kindergarten curriculum. Sex education does appear in the education program for French students, but not until at least the grade level known as CM1, when children are 9. Since the passage of a 2001 law, the curriculum has prescribed "sexual information and education in primary and secondary school for at least three annual sessions." A document from 2003 clarified that the law pertained to primary (where the "three annual sessions" were a suggestion and not a requirement) and secondary school, not kindergarten.

On July 18, Schiappa announced that she and the secretary of education would issue a “document to every principal in France, asking that they implement an existing law, which has not been applied, calling for three sexual and emotional education sessions per academic year, carried out by IMS (school-accredited) organizations, to talk about consent, respect for others (and) relationships between men and women." 

Schiappa says the 2001 law and 2003 clarification "were not implemented."

- No, the Schiappa law does not stipulate that four-year-olds should “prove” that they “did not give consent” in rape cases

Currently, "except in cases of rape or sexual assault, the fact that an adult has had sexual relations with a minor under 15 years of age is punishable by seven years in prison and a 100,000-euro fine," explains Article 227-25 of the penal code

Any adult who had a sexual relationship with someone aged 15 or under could be punished for "sexual abuse".

If the minor of 15 or under did not give their consent, the "sexual abuse" can be reclassified as sexual assault ("sexual abuse committed with violence, coercion, threat or surprise") or "rape," if there were "any type of sexual penetration" committed under the same conditions of "violence, coercion, threat or surprise".

The public prosecutor, not the child, needs to prove that someone has committed a sexual assault or rape. The child victim does not have to prove they did not consent to the sexual act.

Sexual acts with a minor under the age of 15, with or without consent, are already illegal in France and the Schiappa law does not change that.

The new law was proposed following outrage over two recent court cases in which prosecutors refused to try two men for the rape of 11-year old girls because there was no proof of coercion.

The Schiappa law broadened the definition of coercion to include non-physical coercion, clarifing a 2010 law that said that moral coercion can result from the "difference in age between the victim and the perpetrator of the acts and the actual or de facto authority that they exercise over the victim."

The draft framework of the Schiappa law proposed 15 years as the minimum age that a minor could consent to a sexual relationship with an adult. If such a measure had passed, a sexual act between an adult and a 15-year-old minor would automatically have been considered as having being committed under coercion, and so as sexual assault or rape.

But the government quickly discarded the "presumption of non consent" after France's highest administrative court warned it could undermine the defendant's presumption of innocence and risked being declared unconstitutional.

The Schiappa law was ultimately adopted on August 1 after hotly contested parliamentary debates. But women's and childrens' rights groups who supported the "presumption of non-consent" for children under 15 were disappointed by the law.

"The Schiappa law doesn't better protect children," wrote 55 signatories of a column published August 19 on the website of Sunday newspaper JDD.

False claims spread, debunked

Several foreign politicians, including the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) Gerard Batten, shared the Your News Wire story, suggesting that the French government had taken a step toward legalizing child abuse.

New Zealand MP Judith Collins tweeted the article, calling on her country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden to "denounce this legislation of child sexual abuse."

And Australian MP from New South Wales Kirralie Smith also shared the same article stating, "The end goal for pedophiles is to lower the age of consent making it legal to have sex with children." 

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Snopes debunked this article, saying Your News Wire "distorted" the meaning of the Schiappa law and its outcomes, while That’sNonsense.com called the report "misleading."
 

Guillaume Daudin
Caitlin Wilson