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Eye on France: Spare the rod, spoil the child - or not?

media Will 'la fessée' bill be slapped down? Coll-Devaney/SUPERSTOCK/SIPA

To smack or not to smack, that is the question. Later today the French parliament will debate the abolition of corporal punishment. Could it lead to violence in the House?

It’s a serious question. According to the Childhood Foundation, 85 percent of French parents admit administering to their kids what is technically, and rather wonderfully, called “violences éducatives ordinaires,” the routine violence associated with child-rearing.

We’re talking open-handed smacks and taps - nothing too heavy. Basically, what the French call “la fessée,” a slap on the arse.

Spoil the child?

There are those - the “spare the rod and spoil the child” contingent - who believe that the odd clatter is good for the growing youngster and is crucial to the maintenance of parental authority.

Those who support an end to even low-key parental violence against children say that there have been plenty of studies and there’s no longer any doubt about the negative impact on the physical and mental health of the victims.

The time has come, they say, for France to take its place as the 55th nation to formally ban any physical, verbal or psychological violence against the child. No more beating or humiliation.

That, according to Maud Petit, the perfectly-named MP - her family name means “little” - who is shepherding this law through the National Assembly, “will bring to a definitive end a judicial contradiction which dates from the 19th century, but which has absolutely no basis in French penal law.”

France has already been hauled over the coals for its legal ambiguity on corporal punishment, by the European Council in 2015 and by the UN’s children’s committee a year later. Sweden, for example, banned corrective violence against children back in 1979.

The document to be debated by the French parliament later today won’t change much, since there’s no proposal to introduce new sanctions against slap-happy parents. Such sanctions already exist, though how many five-year-olds are aware of that is an interesting question.

No violence, please

If this evening’s debate ends peacefully, a new obligation will be added into the civil marriage ceremony, calling for those who exercise parental authority to do it without recourse to any form of violence.

The text to be considered by deputies has been proposed by the centrist MoDem or Democratic Movement party, presided over by François Bayrou, with the support of the ruling Republic on the Move majority.

Conservative and far-right speakers were complaining at the committee stage that the new law interferes with the private rights of the family.

Jean-Christophe Lagarde of the centre-right Union of Democrats and Independents says the law is senseless and will lead to media mockery, without having any practical impact.

MP Julien Dive of the right-wing Republicans party says Bayrou’s support for the law is an irony of history.

Bayrou was a presidential candidate in 2002 and was famously caught by television cameras in Strasbourg, dishing out a spot of “violence éducative ordinaire” to a kid who tried to pick his pocket.

According to Maud Petit, the child in question has since blossomed into a full-blown delinquent. So, in his case at least, the short, sharp shock treatment did not have the desired effect.

We'll see what the French parliament makes of it all tonight. Let's hope they don't start slapping one another!

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