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British charity bids to ban smacking in France

Oliver Gee · 2 Mar 2015, 14:23

Published: 02 Mar 2015 14:23 GMT+01:00

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Smacking or spanking children in France, an act often referred to as "la fessée", has long been a divisive issue. 
The law states that the act is prohibited - but with exceptions in an "educational context". Paris has repeatedly insisted that its penal code, which prohibits the abuse of a minors, is adequate to defend the rights of children.
But children's rights campaigners in France have long called for a new law.
"Fewer and fewer parents are smacking children in France, but without a new law, the change will only happen slowly. Without that law in place there will always be parents who take advantage and hit children harder and more often than the current law permits," Olivier Maurel, founder of the anti-corporal punishment organisation Oveo, told The Local. 
"After they banned smacking in Sweden [in 1979] the rate of child deaths caused by abuse has dropped to 0.6 percent per 100,000 in France it remains at 1.4 per 100,000."
The vagueness of the law in France has prompted pressure from the independent Council of Europe, which has been leading a campaign to ban smacking across Europe since 2008.
The council's campaign - Raise your Hand against Smacking - has been slow, but promising. Of the 47 European countries that are members of the Council of Europe, 22 have an outright ban on corporal punishment and six are committed to follow. 
But the "educational context" clause in the French law prompted UK children's charity Approach to react, launching a complaint to the Council of Europe in January 2013.
The British group stated that France has violated a section of the European Social Charter by not expressly banning smacking "in families, schools, and other settings".
The council will publish its decision on Wednesday as to whether the law needs amending. The council's ruling, although not legally binding, would help put renewed pressure on France, Andrew Cutting, the spokesperson for the organisation told The Local.
"France has voluntarily signed up to this social charter and made a binding legal commitment to stick to its provisions. If there is a violation found, France has an obligation to put it right, and the European Committee of Social Rights will follow up to make sure steps are taken in the right direction," he said.
France is one of a relatively few Council of Europe countries to have agreed that trade unions, NGOs and other groups can bring formal complaints against them before the European Committee of Social Rights, he added. 
Last year, France saw several failed attempts to clarify the law, most recently in November when the minister for families Laurence Rossignol said "children are the only living beings that can be hit, but where nobody will intervene."
In May last year, a smacking ban was postponed indefinitely after lawmakers in the French parliament decided not to debate the bill.
Story continues below…
"The politicians lack courage," says right's campaigner Maurel. "They are scared of the protests if they changed the law. 
But pressure is mounting from Strasbourg, with the Council of Europe eager to make the ban on spanking continent-wide. It says that smacking children is a "violation of their human rights", adding that it's "ineffective" as a means of discipline, "conveys the wrong message, and can cause serious physical and mental harm".
One expert on the matter, Dr Gilles Lazimi from the Foundation for Childhood, said: "The French government is acting in the interests of the adults and not of the children. It's scandalous".
He pointed out that 85 percent of French parents and grandparents admit to having smacked children in their care, and that half of France's parents and grandparents admitted to having spanked children under the age of two. 
The video below was part an anti-smacking campaign in France in 2013. The tag line is "For you it's a little slap. For him, it's a big smack."

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