Group Calls on French State to Enforce Anti-Spanking Law

PARIS — As it unveiled its new campaign to prevent parental violence against children, the Stop VEO collective, which is supported by physicians, urged public authorities to enforce the 2019 “anti-spanking” law. It condemned the recent decision of the Metz Court of Appeal, which acquitted a father accused of family violence in the name of a supposed “right to correction.”

The Heritage, a film from the new Stop VEO campaign, is the story of a parliamentarian and an association created in 2016 that led to the adoption of the 2019 law. In launching the fifth awareness campaign about parental violence against children, along with its video, the Stop VEO association declared that this fight for violence-free education is far from having been won. The campaign will end in late May.

The New Film

The 2-minute, 47-second film titled The Heritage, a shorter version of which was broadcast on French television on the national day against educational violence, argues that much work remains to be done. It shows that violence is still sometimes used in education, passed down from generation to generation.

A young man, marked by what he experienced during his childhood, tries to hide an enormous right hand, the same “spanking tool” his father and grandfather had before him. “We can all turn our backs on heritage. Let’s not let violence be a part of it,” concludes the voice-over of this short film, while the young man, now a father, holding his newborn, sees his hand return to normal size.

“The atmosphere regarding violence against minors is heavy, but this film will continue to fuel the debate,” noted Gilles Lazimi, MD, a general practitioner in Romainville, France, and president of the Stop VEO association.

The Stop VEO campaign states that it is more necessary than ever to recall fundamentals. “Why do we talk about violence when we hit an adult, cruelty when we hit animals, and education when we hit children? Educational violence is the gateway to all violence,” said Céline Quelen, director of Stop VEO, an association she founded in 2016, which claims 300 members and supports parents through parenting workshops, guides, and campaigns.

Conveying the Message

Spanking has been officially banned in France since Parliament’s adoption in 2019 of a law in the civil code requiring that parental authority be exercised without physical or psychological violence. Despite this regulatory development, 5 years later, things have not changed enough, according to Sarah El Haïry, a delegated minister for Children, Youth and Families. “It is undeniable that educational violence persists from one generation to the next, with devastating consequences on the child’s development…The message must be conveyed tirelessly; education must be without violence.”

A Controversial Decision

Several recent developments have alarmed advocates for children’s rights. For the past 2 years, criticism of positive education has grown. Caroline Goldman, a psychologist for children and adolescents, has attracted attention with her book Go to Your Room, which advocates for more severity and authority. In July 2023, the prefect of Hérault, France, sparked controversy by stating that children involved in riots following the death of a young man in Nanterre, France, who was shot by the police while driving a car after refusing to stop, should be given “two slaps and sent to bed.”

More recently, a decision by the Metz Court of Appeal caused an outcry. On April 18, the court acquitted a police officer who had beaten women and children on the grounds of a “right to correction.”

This judicial decision outraged the Stop VEO collective. “This right to correction, inherited from Napoleonic law, is now contrary to the law; the magistrate must understand that this decision is harmful,” said pediatrician Edwige Antier, MD, a member of the collective. “When a child dies, one out of three times, it is due to a slap that went wrong.”

The Stop VEO association announced that it would file an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights if the decision was not overturned, said Gilles Lazimi.

Appeal to the Government

Invited to the launch of the campaign, Maud Petit, a legislator representing Val-de-Marne, France, and the originator of the 2019 anti-spanking law, also acknowledged that despite the “victory of 2019,” things had not fully returned to normal. “For 5 years, we have been fighting for communication on the subject. The government is not doing enough,” she said.

Petit observed that the COVID lockdowns in 2020 led to an explosion in reports of domestic violence or violence against children. The 119 helpline was overwhelmed with calls. The government then focused on cases of abuse within families and neglected ordinary educational violence.

“The law is not being properly enforced; many families continue to act as before,” said Petit, who also objected to the Metz Court of Appeal’s decision.

“We must be very vigilant because authorities are attacking the law. However, magistrates are not supposed to ignore the law. Hence, the importance of your campaign! We must communicate, again and again.”

Support measures for the law are lacking. Lazimi noted that after 5 years, children’s official health records still do not mention the law. Nor do official documents related to pregnancy or concerning children contain information about the law. Parental support remains insufficient, he said, noting that centers to provide services to future parents have not been established as promised. “The government must make commitments and stick to them!”

Publicis France, a partner of Stop VEO, produces the latter’s awareness campaigns free of charge and intends to continue supporting this cause. “The work continues; it involves communication and creation,” said Agathe Bousquet, president of Publicis France.

This story was translated from the Medscape French edition using several editorial tools, including AI, as part of the process. Human editors reviewed this content before publication.

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