France to resist new call to ban smacking of kids

The French government says it will resist pressure for it to bring in an outright ban on smacking children, despite the fact it is set to be condemned by Europe’s top human rights body for failing to clearly outlaw corporal punishment.

France to resist new call to ban smacking of kids
France will resist calls to ban smacking, despite criticism from human rights body. Photo: AFP

The Council of Europe is expected to rule on Wednesday that French law is not “sufficiently clear, binding and precise” on the matter of smacking children,” Le Monde newspaper reported.

The council will not officially comment for the moment but in its judgement the body is expected to severely criticize France, which is one of the few countries in the EU not to ban smacking outright.

The council was called to make a ruling after British-based charity Approach lodged the complaint because it maintains that French law violates part of the European Social Charter, a Council of Europe treaty first adopted in 1961 and revised in 1996.

Despite the Council of Europe's ruling not being legally binding, it is expected to trigger renewed pressure in France from those who want all forms of corporal punishment, including spanking (known as la fessée in France) outlawed.

However the French government do not look they are ready to budge.

While France bans violence towards children, it does allow parents the “right to discipline” them and France's family minister Laurence Rossignol said she did not believe it was necessary to legislate on the issue of smacking.

“We don't need a law, but we do need to collectively consider the usefulness of corporal punishment in bringing up children,” she told AFP.

“The evolution of a society and its social developments are not suddenly brought about by a change in law,” Rossignol added.

The secretary of state did say she was favourable to the “promotion of violence-free education” in which it is important to “make parents aware that corporal punishment is not trivial.”

“You can raise children and give them boundaries, without resorting to it,” she said.

For Rossignol, there are already laws laid down in France to deal with “abusive parents”.

“For those who at one moment want to use corporal punishment, we must help them do otherwise and not just say “the judge will deal with that.”

Rossignol and the government’s position may be influenced by the public reaction the last time France pushed through a controversial change in family law.

Hollande and co, who are struggling to revive the economy will not want to provoke the same kind of mass street rallies that accompanied their bill to legalize gay marriage and adoption in 2012.

“We need a collective reflection on the question of the usefulness of corporal punishment in educating children,” said Rossignol.

“I do not want to cut the country in two camps, those who are for spanking and those who are against,” she added.

(The following is a French anti-smacking campaign video that some readers might find disturbing. The tag line is “For you it's a little slap. For him, it's a big smack.”)

Groups calling for a ban however accuse the government of simply “lacking courage”.

“Fewer and fewer parents are smacking children in France, but without a new law, the change will only happen slowly,” Olivier Maurel, founder of the anti-corporal punishment organisation Oveo, told The Local.

“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,” 

“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.”

Another 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”.

Twenty-seven European nations have banned the smacking of children and the Council of Europe wants the rest of its 47 member states to follow suit.

But polls show there remains widespread support in Britain and France for the right to smack children.

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