The French soldiers accused of raping orphan boys at a camp for internally displaced people in the Central African Republic (CAR) say their actions have been misunderstood, French authorities said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The soldiers thought the boys were 15 years or older and had given consent for sodomy, but the boys had clearly lied about their age during sex-for-food negotiations,” said Jean-Claude La’Marre, spokesperson for the French army.
The age of consent in France is 15. Most of the boys raped by French soldiers were younger than 10.
The latest developments come after a confidential UN document detailing the sexual exploitation of young children in Bangui by French troops was leaked to French prosecutors.
Reports suggest the whistle-blower who sent the report to French prosecutors out of frustration with the UN’s lack of response to the incident, has since been suspended by the UN.
On Sunday French soldiers were expected to visit orphans and “clarify the situation”.
“Not only did they agree to being touched, we gave them buttered croissants and macaroons,” one soldier said.
The French government said it would find ways to redeem their tainted image on the African continent.
“I guess French citizenship is better than being screwed for nothing,” said President Francois Hollande’s spokesperson, Gené Seppah.