France gets rap on knuckles over smacking children

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) - A top rights body said Wednesday that France was in violation of a European treaty because it did not fully ban the smacking of children, reigniting debate over the divisive issue.

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe said France's laws on corporal punishment for children were not "sufficiently clear, binding and precise".

France bans violence against children but does allow parents the "right to discipline" them.

French law does forbid corporal punishment in schools or disciplinary establishments for children.

More than half of the 47 members of the Council of Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, have completely banned smacking.

Worldwide, 17 other countries have a complete ban on corporal punishment for children, notably in South America, Central America and Africa.

The Council of Europe was ruling on a complaint lodged by the Britain-based child protection charity Approach, which says that French law violates part of the European Social Charter, a treaty first adopted in 1961 and revised in 1996.

France was one of seven countries included in the complaint. Rulings on the other six -- Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy and Ireland -- are due in the coming months.

- 'Collective debate' -

The case has revived the issue in France, with the minister for the family Laurence Rossignol calling for a "collective debate" but not new regulations.

"For abusive parents, we have a penal code. For those that occasionally resort to corporal punishment, we need to help them do things differently and not discredit them by saying 'the judge is coming to deal with that'," the minister added.

The government was more dismissive, with spokesman Stephane Le Foll saying there were "no grounds for debate".

"No one in France is in favour of corporal punishment," said Le Foll.

The subject came to the fore in France in 2013 when a father was fined 500 euros ($600) for smacking his nine-year-old son.

Some people lauded the ruling, others found it disproportionately harsh.

Pope Francis raised hackles earlier this year when he said good fathers knew how to forgive but also to "correct with firmness".

He described as "beautiful" and dignified the response of one father who said he sometimes smacked his children "but never in the face so as to not humiliate them".

Those in favour of a complete ban point to the mental and physical harm suffered by the child.

Gilles Lazimi, from the campaign group "Foundation for the Child", said that smacking a child is "not only ineffective but also harmful for the health of some children".

Being hit can "interfere with brain development, emotional development, the relationship with parents and... as the child ages, can result in a loss of self-confidence and self-esteem," said Lazimi.

However, an opposition politician, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, said it was "ridiculous" to introduce laws that governed family life to that extent.

"Are we going to be told how to stack our plates, whether children should be made to dry up and whether they can help their parent with the chores?" he asked.

Unlike the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe does not have the power to punish its members, only to slap them on the wrist.

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