A smacking ban in France? Au contraire

The papers claim France has banned smacking. Here’s why they’re wrong…

Last week, numerous news outlets reported that France has voted to ban smacking. Articles appeared on the BBC, The Times, The Independent and the Mail Online, as well several publications abroad.

An article by Reuters news agency, carried by The Daily Telegraph on 30 November, was one of the first we saw – and one of the best examples of fake news.

The piece, ‘French MPs vote overwhelmingly in favour of smacking ban’, asserted that members of the “French parliament voted in favour of a ban on parents smacking their children, falling into line with the majority of European Union member states”.

There is so much faux news in this short sentence, it’s hard to know where to begin.

The idea that members of the Assemblée Nationale have voted “overwhelmingly” for a smacking ban is quite misleading.

Last week, 55 members of the 577-strong Assembly turned out for a late night vote, where 51 backed a change to the wording of France’s Civil Code.

In effect, this would require civil registrars to read a line at wedding ceremonies urging parents not to use “physical violence” or “corporal punishment”.

What this small group of politicians did not vote for is a legal prohibition on smacking.

‘Physical violence’ and ‘corporal punishment’ do not include parental smacking because each of these things involves children being harmed.

A light smack as discipline in the context of a loving home does no harm to children, and the vast majority of French parents know this to be true.

Consequently, many parents will continue to smack their children even if the Senate backs this move and the Civil Code is changed.

They will do this without any fear of reprisal because the wording of the code is purely ‘educational’. There is no legal force behind it to punish parents who smack.

Smacking ban advocates are quick to jump on symbolic moves like this to claim that yet another smacking ‘ban’ has been implemented.

The article states that following the example of Sweden, “some 54 countries – including 22 of the EU’s 28 member countries – have introduced similar laws banning corporal punishment in the home”.

This overly simplistic assessment fails to take account of the diverse legal structures of the countries involved – from Spain, to Sweden, to South Sudan.

In 2007 Spain brought forward an amendment to its Civil Code on smacking which was “primarily educational” and carries no penal authority.

But Sweden did enact a law which prosecutes parents who continue to discipline their children using a light smack.

These distinctions are incredibly important when you consider that smacking bans are on the horizon in the UK.

In September, the Association of Educational Psychologists tabled a motion to the TUC Conference calling for smacking to be outlawed in England.

But in Scotland and Wales, legislation is already on the cards to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement from law and make smacking a criminal offence.

In the UK, we do not pass symbolic laws. Our legislation carries with it the threat of arrest, prosecution and even conviction.

Under the Scottish and Welsh proposals, parents who discipline their children with something as light as a tap on the hand or the backside are liable to feel the full force of the law.

The thought of UK parents who smack their children being criminalised is very troubling indeed.

Especially when you consider that research on smacking does not come anywhere close to proving that light, infrequent smacking is harmful to a child.

Professor Robert Larzelere, a world expert in child developmental psychology, states that none of the major studies on ‘spanking’ are methodologically sound enough to allow strong conclusions to be drawn.

In fact, he believes that banning smacking could harm children, rather than help them.

According to Prof Larzelere, the rates of alleged criminal assaults by and against children have “skyrocketed” in Sweden since a ban was introduced.

“Reported criminal assaults by minors against minors increased 672% from 93 in 1981 to 718 in 1994 and continued increasing to 2,194 in 2010, over 23 times as often as in 1981.”

These troubling statistics should make any politician stop and consider whether a smacking ban is really in the interests of children.

In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the law strongly protects children from abuse. At the same time, it allows parents to use light discipline without being labelled abusers.

The vast majority of parents in the UK, like those in France would agree that this is très raisonnable indeed.