France passes law prohibiting the use of “corporal violence” against children

On 22 December 2016, the French Parliament voted to pass the Equality and Citizenship Law. Article 68 of this law completes article 371-1 of the Civil Code as follows (amendment in bold, unofficial translation):

“Parental authority is a cluster of rights and duties whose finality is the interest of the child.

It is vested in the father and mother until the majority or emancipation of the child in order to protect him in his security, health and morality, to ensure his education and allow his development, with all due respect owed to his person and excluding all cruel, degrading or humiliating treatment, including any use of corporal violence.

The parents shall make a child a party to decisions that concern him, according to his age and degree of maturity.”

The Global Initiative welcomes this vote, but notes that the use of the term “corporal violence” is not on its own strong enough to effectively prohibit all corporal punishment of children, however light, in all settings including the home. In fact, violence against children is already an offence under the Penal Code, so without a definition of “corporal violence” it is unclear what impact this new law will have on the legality of corporal punishment.

French judges have previously recognised a “right of correction” to parents and individuals with parental responsibilities and have not before construed corporal punishment as cruel or violent treatment. The expose des motifs – the explanation given by the MP bringing forward the amendment – clearly states that this amendment aims to repeal the “right of correction” defence and to prohibit all forms of violence against children, physical, verbal and psychological. However, the expose des motifs does not have a strong standing in legal terms and is not binding when a judge is interpreting the law.

It is our understanding that once the law is promulgated and published in the Official Journal, a decret d’application – a governmental document which gives interpretative guidance of the law – should include the definition of corporal punishment set out by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and clarify that this amendment fully prohibits all corporal punishment of children. The decret will not be publicly available until after the promulgation of the law.

The French President has 15 days after a law is voted to promulgate it. However, constitutional challenges have been raised against different provisions of the law including article 68, which will delay promulgation until early February 2017.

Provided that the constitutional challenges do not succeed and that the term “corporal violence” is defined as encompassing all corporal punishment in the decret, France will then become the 52nd state worldwide and the 22nd European Union state to achieve complete prohibition of corporal punishment of children.