(AP) Surprising as it may seem, incest is not always a crime in Europe.

Three European Union nations — France, Spain and Portugal — do not prosecute consenting adults for incest, and Romania is considering following suit.

The shocking case of Austrian Josef Fritzl, found guilty this week of holding his daughter captive for 24 years and fathering her seven children, has focused new attention on incest — which is a crime in itself in Austria even if the acts are consensual. But in the Fritzl case it was in connection with rape, homicide and other charges that led to a sentence of life in a secure psychiatric ward.

Laws exempting parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters from prosecution for incestuous acts if they are not forced upon adult family members are decades old in France, Spain and Portugal.

In Romania, decriminalizing incest among consenting adults is being considered as part of a wide range of reforms to the country’s criminal code. No date has been set yet for a parliament vote on the bill, and opposition to the proposal is fervent even among some lawmakers in the ruling coalition.

Currently all forms of incest in Romania are punishable by up to seven years in prison. But Romania’s Justice Ministry suggests the new legislation would move the country — which joined the European Union two years ago — closer legally to some other EU members.

“Not everything that is immoral has to be illegal,” said Justice Ministry legal expert Valerian Cioclei. “We cannot help these people by turning them into criminals and punishing them.”

Not all Romanians accept the Justice’s Ministry’s argument.

Anuta Popa, a 22-year-old woman in the western city of Cluj, said she doubted that incest ever happened by consent in her country, saying it was more likely that the man was drunk and violently attacked his sister or mother.

“Incest should not be legalized. If they want to have sex, better to say a prayer and remember that God sees them,” she declared. “I would castrate them.”

March 23, 2009

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