France's minister for families, Laurence Rossignol, has called for a revival of the debate over spanking, known as "la fessée", and the use of corporal punishment in schools.
Ahead of Universal Children's Day on 20th November, when the rights of the child are celebrated, the Secretary of State for the Family reinforced concerns over smacking in schools and called for “education without violence”.
Speaking on Tuesday to radio station Europe 1, Rossignol said: “We can still be parents and be obeyed without resorting to violence, especially when it comes to small children.
“When we see a man beat his wife, everyone steps in. If we see two adults fighting, we try to separate them. If you see someone torturing an animal, you intervene. Ultimately, the only living beings that can be hit and nobody will intervene, are children.”
She added that the government did not intend to legislate on the matter immediately, saying: “The civil code already states that interpersonal violence is prohibited. There is an exemption for an educational context. We could simply get rid of this exemption."
In May 2014, French MPs rejected the addition of an anti-smacking amendment to family law, despite pressure from Brussels to introduce a ban on spanking that would bring it into line with the rest of Europe.
France is one of the few EU countries in which the law still enshrines the “right of correction” within families and where it is believed that, according to the organisation Union of Families in Europe, “spanking is an educational method”.
However there is confusion around the law. In October 2013 a man was fined €500 for spanking his son, who he claimed had shown him disrespect. He defended his actions, saying he was against the "current fashion" of parenting that stops adults from "correcting children".
The civil code simply states that "parental authority is a set of rights and duties whose purpose is the interest of the child. It is the responsibility of the parents until the child reaches majority age or is emancipated to protect their safety, health and morals, to ensure their education and allow its development, with due respect to his person.”
While under the criminal code, a person "is not criminally responsible who performs an act endorsed by legitimate authority, unless the act is clearly unlawful” – which spanking is not.
However, the penal code states “violence is punished by three years' imprisonment and a fine of €45,000 when committed on a minor under fifteen years or a person whose particular vulnerability, due to age, illness, infirmity, a physical or mental disability or to pregnancy, is apparent or known to the perpetrator” – leaving the law very much open to interpretation.
By Lindsey Johnstone