AP Interview: French government to tackle child abuse issue

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French Secretary of State in charge of children and families Adrien Taquet speaks during an interview in Paris, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Taquet said it's time for France to face the "deeply rooted" issue of sexual abuse on children, as the government wants to set the age of sexual consent at 15 amid a set of new measures that would include systematic prevention in schools. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS – France has a “deeply rooted” societal problem with child sexual abuse, the French official responsible for children and families acknowledged Friday while discussing new government plans to address it with tougher laws and heightened vigilance in schools.

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Adrien Taquet, a secretary of state in the French Health Ministry, said “there are some urgent matters, and we have some urgent responses.”

"But there are some very very deep issues so it’s only a beginning,” he added.

Proposed legal changes announced by the government this week would classify any sexual penetration of a child under age 15 by an adult as rape and expand the statute of limitations to make it easier to prosecute sexual predators. The proposed measures follow a series of high-profile cases in France that highlighted legal obstacles to prosecuting alleged child rapists.

“If you have 5 victims of a perpetrator and only the last crime can be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations, tomorrow the four previous victims will also be able to bring their case to justice," Taquet explained.

A massive online movement that saw thousands of people share accounts about sexual abuse within their families also brought attention to the issue. Over 160 French celebrities signed an appeal Friday in Le Parisien newspaper urging the government to take action.

“This is important in itself, it is important as a symbol, as a message to the society,” Taquet said. “But there are so many other things we have to improve.”

Changes are going “to take some time” because problems are “so deeply rooted in our society,” he said.