Picture: 123RF/Artit Oubkaew
Picture: 123RF/Artit Oubkaew

France is launching a new drive to ban the smacking of children, a practise that, though condemned by the UN, still enjoys widespread support in the country.

Attempts by previous governments to ban the practice have run afoul of conservatives.

A 2016 bill condemning the smacking of children was later struck down by the Constitutional Council, which vets legislation, because it was adopted in the form of an amendment to an unrelated piece of legislation.

The National Assembly was due to take up the matter once again on Thursday, debating a bill put forward by a centrist MP, which has government backing.

The bill on “corporal punishment or humiliation” seeks to ensure that parental authority is exercised “without violence” of any sort, including “physical, verbal or psychological” violence.

According to the nongovernmental organisation Childhood Foundation, 85% of French parents resort to corporal punishment, to the dismay of many European neighbours, including Sweden and Germany.

Schools have long been banned from physically punishing children, but not parents.

Crucially, the bill would not sanction parents who continue to “discipline” their children, as its main goal is “educational” — a way to encourage society to mend its views, according to Maud Petit, the MP who sponsored the measure.

But it will slap down a 19th-century addendum to the Civil Code’s definition of parental authority, which is read out to couples taking their wedding vows and which specifically allows for “disciplining” children.

It will also bring France into line with international legislation.

In March 2015, the Council of Europe human rights organisation singled out France for failing to ban smacking, unlike most other European countries.

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

Those in favour of the ban say scientific studies prove that children suffer mental and physical consequences when smacked.

If the bill is adopted, France will become the 55th state to ban corporal punishment of children, a move started by Sweden in 1979.

For Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a conservative MP who opposes the measure, the bill is “devoid both of consequences and meaning”.

But centrist MP Patrick Mignola suggested that all those who oppose the measure should remind themselves that not so long ago no one batted an eye when husbands beat their wives.