How well is France doing at looking after its kids?

The organisation Unicef has released a report ranking 41 rich countries according to the well-being of their children. Here are some of the key points about France.

How well is France doing at looking after its kids?
Photo: AFP
The Unicef report released on Thursday, ranking 41 rich countries according to nine goals identified as the most important for a child's well-being. 
These goals are: Ending poverty, ending hunger, ensuring healthy lives, ensuring quality education, ensuring job opportunities, reducing inequalities, creating sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production (linked to environmental sustainability) and the presence of peace, justice and strong institutions. 
Here's how France measured up and a look at some of the more interesting take outs from the report. 
1. Overall ranking
France finished 19th for child well-being overall compared to the UK which came in 13th and the US – ranked one of the worst countries assessed – at 37. 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given they seem to top most international rankings, it was the Nordic countries and Germany dominating the top of the rankings, with Norway coming top closely followed by Germany and Denmark. Sweden, Finland and Iceland took fourth, fifth and sixth position, respectively. 
Photo: Guy Renard/Flickr
2. Best scores
France's best score came from its performance in relation to “ending hunger” where it came seventh. This was followed by the quality of education available for which it was ranked 14th overall. 
By comparison, the UK's best scores were in reducing inequality (sixth) and responsible consumption and production (ninth). 
While the US saw its best ranking (13th) for its progress towards creating sustainable cities and communities and in the decent work and economic growth category where it came 17th. 
3. Worst scores 
Interestingly, France's best result was the UK's weakest area and vice versa. France's poorest ranking occurred in the reducing inequalities category where it was ranked 34th, with the UK coming 34th in relation to ending hunger.
France also scored poorly in relation to responsible consumption and production (25th), the creation of sustainable cities and communities (23rd) and in ensuring decent work and economic growth (20th).  
The US came a rather embarrassing 40th in its worst category which ranked it according to the presence of peace, justice and strong institutions in the country. 
4. Breastfeeding 
Apart from the main rankings one of the points Unicef focused on in the report was breastfeeding

This is one of the few positive health indicators on which rich countries tend to lag behind poorer ones.

The reports indicate that the “proportion of mothers who have ever breastfed is high in all the rich countries
included, with only France and Ireland reporting rates of below 75 per cent.”
The charity published a table of breastfeeding rates showing that even though both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months, only 23 percent of French women were still breastfeeding their child at six months-old, compared to Norway where data shows 71 percent were breastfeeding at this point and Japan where 63 percent were still breastfeeding. 
Some 37 percent of French women have never breastfed, only Ireland at 45 percent had a higher rate, according to the table.
Photo: AFP
5. Social status vs. Education
One area where France lags behind the class on is the direct relation between a child's social and economic background and how well they do in school. 
Although Unicef highlights that the country has improved in this area, it still has the greatest disparity between background and results in school of any of the 39 country's included in this part of the report. 
Just a small increase on the scale used by the charity to measure someone's social and economic position can lead to an average improvement across the three main subjects of maths, science and reading of 56 score points, the equivalent of almost two years’ schooling. 
Photo: AFP
6. Mental health 
Under the Unicef goal of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being, France comes fairly high in terms of the percentage of adolescents reporting two or more psychological symptoms, including feeling low, irritable or nervous and having sleeping difficulties, more than once a week, with 27.9 percent of French teens reporting these symptoms. 
This compares to 19.9 percent of adolescents in the UK. The country with the highest rates of reported mental health issues in the survey was Italy with 36.5 percent. 
However Unicef does advise an element of caution around interpreting self-reported statistics.
7. Sexual violence against girls 
Unicef also considers gender equality as one of its official goals but this tenth objective had to be left out of the final rankings as a result of a lack of data. 
However we do know from their findings that when it comes to sexual violence against girls, France doesn't measure up well in comparison to other rich countries assessed in this category. While sexual violence by adults affects an average of 6 percent of European girls under the age of 15, in France it affects a shocking 12 percent. 
This makes France marginally better than the UK where 12.3 percent of girls are affected. Only girls in Luxembourg are worse off, with 13 percent of them affected by the issue. 

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France to finally ban smacking children – but parents won’t be punished

France's parliament is expected to adopt a ban on parents smacking their children although those that do are unlikely to be punished.

France to finally ban smacking children - but parents won't be punished
Smacking will be outlawed. Photo monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

The practice of smacking children, referred to in France as la fessée is condemned by the UN but still enjoys widespread support in the country

The ban, to be put to a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday, would make France the 55th state to prohibit corporal punishment of children.

It will be written into the Civil Code and read out to couples when they exchange their marital vows. 


The newly-weds will be told that “parental authority is exercised without physical or psychological violence”. 

The measure, which was adopted by MPs in November, is expected to easily pass the Senate despite some lawmakers on the right railing against what they see as “interference” in family life.

Violence towards children is already banned under France's penal code, but a 19th-century addendum to the Civil Code's definition of parental authority made allowances for parents when “disciplining” their children.

According to France's Childhood Foundation, 85 percent of French parents admit to smacking their children.

Attempts by previous governments to ban the practise have run afoul of conservatives, but resistance has softened in recent years.

The new law does not contain a specific punishment for parents who break the rules.

Its main goal is to encourage society to change its ways, Maud Petit, the MP who sponsored the measure, said.

The legislation will bring France in line with international treaties on the rights of children.

In 2015, the Council of Europe, which makes recommendations on rights, singled out France for failing to follow the example of other European countries by banning smacking.

A year later, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged France to “explicitly prohibit” all forms of corporal punishment of children.