France Bans Smacking Kids, Overturns Napoleon-Era Law Granting Parents The Right To Use Corporal Punishment

Many other countries in Europe also ban corporal punishment, including spanking.

a stock photo of a woman about to slap a small child
Sandy Schulze / Shutterstock

Many other countries in Europe also ban corporal punishment, including spanking.

Parents in France will no longer be legally allowed to smack their children across the face, after the country’s parliament voted to overturn a 200-year-old law dating back to Emperor Napoleon’s days, Reuters is reporting.

Since the early 1800’s, French parents have had the legal right to inflict corporal punishment on their children – up to a point. France, of course, does not tolerate full-on child abuse, such as beatings, whippings, or so on. However, spanking, slapping, a twist of the ear, have all been expressly allowed under the Napoleon-era law for nearly two centuries now (although France banned spanking in 2017). But on Saturday, that law was overturned by the country’s National Assembly.

France’s gender equality minister, Marlene Schiappa, proposed the law.

“No violence is educational.”

Schiappa’s proposed ban also had the support of Maud Petit of the centrist MoDem party.

“Education through violence can only create more violence in society. It also leads to failure at school, illness, suicide, anti-social behavior and delinquency.”

A small majority of conservative and far-right politicians opposed the ban, however, alleging that it interferes with a family’s right to discipline their children as they see fit. It bears noting that the ban does not carry with it any criminal penalties.

an illustration of a father spanking a boy
  Lorelyn Medina / Shutterstock

Across Europe, countries have been moving away from corporal punishment, both in schools and in the home, for decades.

As Good Housekeeping reported in 2017, as of the time of that writing, 52 countries across the world had officially banned spanking, including the overwhelming majority of countries in Europe. Children’s-rights advocates say that spanking a child, however mildly, is tantamount to violence.

Doctor Gilles Lazimi, of the Foundation for Childhood in France, said that no amount of violence towards a child is acceptable.

“All violence can be harmful for the child. Above all, it removes the notion of a threshold: there is no small or big violence. There is violence, full stop.”

Efforts at banning corporal punishment of children in the United States, however, have largely gone nowhere. In fact, according to a National Institutes of Health report, 19 states still allow corporal punishment of children in schools. All 50 states also allow spanking and other forms of corporal punishment in the home.

According to KIMT-TV (Mason City, Iowa), a 2015 study found that 76% of American men and two-thirds of American women believe that a “good, hard spanking” is “sometimes necessary” to correct a miscreant child’s behavior. Similarly, a 2011 study found that 80 percent of American schoolchildren say they’ve been spanked at least once by the time they reach fifth grade.