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France: New Legal Protections for Children

(Apr. 1, 2016) On March 14, 2016, the French government promulgated a new law on child protection. (Loi no. 2016-297 du 14 mars 2016 relative a la protection de l’enfant (1) [Law No. 2016-297 of March 14, 2016, Regarding the Protection of the Child], LEGIFRANCE.) It amends existing French legislation with the overall goal of increasing protection for children, especially children who are in situations that make them particularly vulnerable.  (Promulgation de la loi sur la protection de l’enfant [Promulgation of the Law on the Protection of the Child], LIBÉRATION (Mar. 15, 2016).)

Education Subsidy

One of the most noteworthy provisions of the Law concerns the payment of the back-to-school subsidy that the government pays to low-income families with children. (L’allocation de rentrée scolaire [The Back-to-School Subsidy], Allocations Familiales [Government Agency for Family Subsidies] (last visited Mar. 24, 2016).) The payment of this subsidy was previously contingent on the income of a child’s parents, even when the child was under the care of protective services.  (Promulgation de la loi sur la protection de l’enfant, supra.)  Under the new Law, minors under the care of child protective services will receive this subsidy regardless of their parents’ income.  (Loi no. 2016-297 du 14 mars 2016 relative a la protection de l’enfant,  art. 19.)  The Law provides that this subsidy will be paid into a special government savings account until the minor reaches the age of majority or legal emancipation, so that the sum is available to him/her at the start of adult life.  (Id.)

Ad Hoc Administrator

Another significant innovation is the requirement that, when a minor is placed under the protection of child protection services, a court must appoint an ad hoc administrator to represent the minor’s interests.  (Id. art. 37.)  This ad hoc administrator must be distinct from the person or institution in whose care the minor was placed.  (Id.)

Expansion of Incest Definition

The Law also amends the Penal Code to broaden the definition of incest. (Id. art. 44.)  Incestuous rape used to be defined as the commission of a rape or sexual assault against a minor by a person who has parental authority over him/her.  (Code pénal [Penal Code], art. 222-31-2 (version in force from Aug. 7, 2013, to Mar. 16, 2016), LEGIFRANCE.)  Now, however, the Penal Code defines a rape or sexual assault as incestuous when it is committed by a parent, a sibling, an uncle or an aunt, a nephew or niece, or the spouse or partner of any of the above. (Loi no. 2016-297 du 14 mars 2016 relative a la protection de l’enfant, art. 44.)  Likewise, an act of statutory rape is considered incestuous when it is committed by an individual from one of those same categories.  (Id.)

Notification Requirement Strengthened

Furthermore, the Law amends the Penal Code to broaden the scope of provisions that punish the failure to notify authorities when a crime has been committed. Previously, anyone who knew of neglect or abuse of a child of 15 years of age or younger was required to inform the police or other government authorities or risk a fine and up to three years of jail.  (Code pénal, art. 434-3 (version in force from Jan. 1, 2002, to Mar. 16, 2016).) The Penal Code also used to exempt close relatives of a perpetrator from having to notify the authorities of a crime, except if the crime was committed against a child 15 years old or younger.  (Id. art. 434-1.) For both of these provisions, the new Law raises the threshold to the age of majority, which is 18. (Loi no. 2016-297 du 14 mars 2016 relative a la protection de l’enfant, arts. 45 & 46.)