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World France under fire for failing to ban slapping, spanking children

There's enough evidence to say that corporal punishment is probably harmful to most children.

Rob Schoenbaum/(©) Copyright 1999 by 19990610

France has been reprimanded by a European adjudicating panel for violating its treaty obligations and failing to ban parents from using corporal punishment on their children.

The decision faulting the French government is the first of seven cases against European countries started by complaints from a British charity.

In a ruling made public Wednesday, the Council of Europe faulted France because French laws don't explicitly ban all corporal punishment of children.

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France "has failed to act with due diligence to eliminate such punishment in practice," said the ruling by the council's European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR).

This would violate Article 17 of the European Social Charter, a treaty on economic and social rights to which France is a signatory, the ECSR decision said.

The ruling can be cited as jurisprudence if someone wants to submit a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, spokeswoman Estelle Steiner said in a phone interview from the council's headquarters in Strasbourg.

Already, the French government signalled that it wouldn't heed the decision, saying it didn't consider the issue a priority.

Following its usual procedure, the council notified France four months ahead of the publication of the decision.

Laurence Rossignol, the French minister of state for the family, elderly people and adult care, said a public debate about corporal punishment was needed but no legislative steps would be taken.

"There won't be a law. I don't want to split the country in two sides, between those who are for spanking and those who are against," she told Agence France-Presse on Monday.

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The ruling stemmed from a complaint filed two years ago by the London-based Association for the Protection of All Children (APPROACH), one of a number of NGOs entitled to lodge complaints with the ECSR.

The group's complaint noted that 87 per cent of French parents had spanked their kids and 72 per cent had "mildly" slapped them on the face.

"It is disingenuous of the French Government to assert that its legal framework is adequate when it is plain that milder forms of corporal punishment have been condoned by court decisions and are still widely approved by a majority of the population," the complaint said.

"Millions of children are thus suffering violations of their right to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity."

APPROACH also filed complaints against Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy and Slovenia.

Decisions in those files are expected to be made public in May.

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In Canada, Section 43 of the Criminal Code allows teachers and parents to use force to correct a child "if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances."

The controversial section was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 6-3 decision in 2004.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal has called for the removal of the section, saying it is an "anachronistic excuse for poor parenting."

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