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Report updated August 2013

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Child population
13,837,000 (UNICEF, 2011)

Summary of law reform necessary to achieve full prohibition

Prohibition is still to be achieved in the home, alternative care settings, day care, schools and penal institutions.

Customary law recognises a “right of correction”. This provision must be explicitly repealed and a clear law enacted prohibiting all corporal punishment in raising and disciplining children, including by parents, teachers and all adults with parental authority over children.

Alternative care settings – Explicit prohibition should be enacted in legislation applicable to all alternative care settings (foster care, institutions, places of safety, emergency care, etc).

Day care – Corporal punishment should be explicitly prohibited in all early childhood care (nurseries, crèches, preschools, family centres, etc) and all day care for older children (day centres, after-school childcare, childminding, etc).

Schools – Explicit prohibition should be enacted in relation to all education settings, public and private, in addition to repeal of the “right of correction” in customary law.

Penal institutions – Explicit prohibition should be enacted of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure in all institutions accommodating children in conflict with the law.

Note: France has a number of overseas territories etc:

Overseas departments and regions. Under article 73 of the French Constitution 1958, the national laws and regulations of France apply fully and automatically in the overseas departments and regions, with adaptations possible to take account of special characteristics. Departments may make regulations in limited areas but these exclude nationality, civic rights, civil liberties, personal status, justice, criminal law, criminal procedure, foreign policy, defence, public security and public order, currency, credit and exchange and electoral law. See separate country reports for French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion.

Overseas collectivities. Under article 74 of the French Constitution overseas collectivities enjoy a varying degree of autonomy which may or may not distinguish them from metropolitan France. The division of competences between the French state and the collectivity is set out in an institutional law; some collectivities are subject to the legislative speciality rule whereby national laws and regulations do not apply unless this is expressly provided for. See separate country reports for French Polynesia, Mayotte, St Barthelemy, St Martin, St Pierre et Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna Islands.

New Caledonia. Under articles 76 and 77 of the French Constitution, New Caledonia constitutes a distinct category; it is governed by the legislative speciality rule (see above). See separate country report for New Caledonia.

Current legality of corporal punishment

Home

Corporal punishment is lawful in the home under the “right of correction” in customary law. For example, in 1819 the Supreme Court ruled that parents have this right (Court de Cassation, Criminal Chamber, 17 December 1819, S. 1819-1821, chron., p. 152); a ruling in 1967 stated that this right does not apply when the child’s health is placed at risk (Cour de Cassation, Criminal Chamber, 21 February 1967, Bull. Crim., No. 73).

Provisions against violence and abuse in the Criminal Code 1994, the Civil Code, Act No. 2007-293 reforming child welfare and Act No. 2006-399 concerning domestic violence and violence against children are not interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment in childrearing. A bill to abolish all forms of physical and psychological violence against children (Bill No. 1971), intended to prohibit all corporal punishment in childrearing, was filed in the National Assembly in 2010 but died before being debated.

A complaint has been brought against France by the Association for the Protection of All Children (APPROACH) Ltd, under the collective complaints procedure of the European Committee of Social Rights (Collective complaint No. 92/2013, Association for the Protection of All Children (APPROACH) Ltd v France). The complaint alleges that, in breach of the European Social Charter, there is no explicit and effective prohibition of all corporal punishment in the family, schools and other settings and that France has failed to act with due diligence to eliminate such punishment in practice. The complaint was registered by the Committee in February 2013; it was declared admissible on 2 July 2013.
In May 2013, France accepted the recommendations to prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings made during the UPR earlier in 2013 (28 May 2013, A/HRC/23/3/Add.1, Report of the working group: Addendum, para. 10).

Alternative care settings

Corporal punishment is lawful in alternative care settings under the customary “right of correction”. The lack of explicit prohibition of corporal punishment is the subject of a collective complaint brought to the European Committee of Social Rights (see under “Home”).

Day care

Corporal punishment is lawful in day care under the customary “right of correction”. In 2003 the Supreme Court confirmed that nannies and babysitters have this right. The lack of explicit prohibition of corporal punishment is the subject of a collective complaint brought to the European Committee of Social Rights (see under “Home”).

Schools

Ministerial circulars state that corporal punishment should not be used in schools (Circular No. 91-124 of 6 June 1991 regarding primary schools and Circular No. 2000-105 of 11 July 2000 for secondary schools) but there is no explicit prohibition in law and “light correction” is tolerated in the same way as it is for parents. A High Court ruling in 1889 allowed a “right to correction” for teachers; a ruling in 2000 stated that this did not apply to habitual and “non-educational” corporal punishment.

In 1908, the Supreme Court confirmed that teachers have a “right of correction” (Cour de Cassation, Criminal Chamber, 4 December 1908, Bull. Crim., No. 482); a ruling in 2000 stated that this did not apply to habitual and “non-educational” corporal punishment (Court of Appeal, Nancy, 17th January 2000). A 2002 case found that a teacher did not have the right to habitually pull pupils’ hair, kick their behinds and slap their faces but did not rule out all corporal punishment (Cour de Cassation, Criminal Chamber, November 26 2002, case n° 02-81727).

According to the national report to the European Committee of Social Rights in 2010, judicial decisions have acknowledged the “right of correction” by parents, teachers and educators and laid down the conditions that it must be (i) harmless, (ii) of moderate intensity (slaps, clothes seized, ears and hair pulled) and (iii) aimed at maintaining school order and discipline (16 December 2010, RAP/RCha/FR/X(2010), pp. 54-55). The lack of explicit prohibition of corporal punishment in schools is the subject of a collective complaint brought to the European Committee of Social Rights (see under “Home”).

Penal institutions

Corporal punishment is considered unlawful as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions, but there is no explicit prohibition in legislation. The Code of Criminal Procedure 1994 provides for respect for human dignity (article D.189) and prohibits violence towards detainees (article D.220). A decree of 4 April 1996 and its implementing circular of 12 April 1996 prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. The lack of explicit prohibition of corporal punishment is the subject of a collective complaint brought to the European Committee of Social Rights (see under “Home”).

Sentence for crime

Corporal punishment is unlawful as a sentence for crime. There is no provision for judicial corporal punishment in criminal law.

Prevalence research

A study carried out in 2007 examined five European countries: Sweden, Austria, Germany, France and Spain. Five thousand parents (1,000 in each nation) were interviewed about their use of and attitude towards corporal punishment, their own experiences of violence and their knowledge and beliefs about the law: 72% of French parents said they had “mildly” slapped their child on the face, 87% on the bottom; 32% had given their child a “resounding” slap on the face; 4.5% had beaten their child with an object; 7.9% never used corporal punishment; 85% agreed that “one should try to use as little corporal punishment as possible”, and 825% agreed that “non-violent child-rearing is the ideal”. (Bussmann, K. D. (2009), The Effect of Banning Corporal Punishment in Europe: A Five-Nation Comparison, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)

A survey by the Union of Families in Europe (UFE) of 2,000 grandparents, parents and children found that 95% of adults and 96% of children had been smacked; 84% of grandparents and 87% of parents had administered corporal punishment. One in ten parents admitted to punishing their children with a “martinet” (a small whip); 30% of children said they had been punished with a martinet. When asked the reason for smacking their children, parents said it was part of “bringing up” their children (77%), it was to “relieve their feelings” (7%) or both of these things. When asked how they planned to discipline their own children when they become parents, 64% of children said “the same”. 61% of grandparents and 53% of parents said that they oppose a ban on corporal punishment of children. (Union of Families in Europe (2007), POUR ou CONTRE les fessées?, Tassin: UFE)

Recommendations by human rights treaty bodies

Committee on the Rights of the Child

“The Committee regrets that some of the concerns and recommendations (CRC/C/15/Add. 240) it made upon consideration of the State party’s second periodic report have been insufficiently addressed, particularly those relating to … corporal punishment….

“While taking note of the State party’s assertion that all forms of physical corporal punishment are prohibited in the French Penal Code, the Committee reiterates its concern that corporal punishment, in particular in the home, as well as in schools, remains widespread, especially in the Overseas Departments and Territories, and that a specific provision to prohibit explicitly corporal punishment against children is still missing.

“Reiterating its previous recommendation and in accordance with its General Comment No. 8, the Committee recommends that the State party explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including in the family, in schools, in institutions and other childcare settings, increase awareness-raising in this respect and promote the value of education without violence according to article 28, para. 2 of the Convention. In this endeavour, the Committee further recommends that the State party follow-up on the Council of Europe’s campaign to achieve full prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment which it has signed up for.”
(11 June 2009, CRC/C/FRA/CO/4 Advance Unedited Version, Concluding observations on third/fourth report, paras. 6, 57 and 58)

“The Committee welcomes the fact that the State party considers corporal punishment totally unacceptable and inadmissible, however it remains concerned that corporal punishment is not explicitly prohibited in the family, in schools, in institutions and in other childcare settings.

“The Committee encourages the State party to expressly prohibit corporal punishment by law in the family, in schools, in institutions and in other childcare settings. It further recommends awareness-raising and promotion of positive, non-violent forms of discipline, especially in families, schools and care institutions in light of article 28, paragraph 2, of the Convention.”
(30 June 2004, CRC/C/15/Add.240, Concluding observations on second report, paras. 38 and 39)

“The Committee would also like to suggest that further awareness-raising and educational measures be undertaken to prevent child abuse and the physical punishment of children.”
(25 April 1994, CRC/C/15/Add.20, Concluding observations on initial report, para. 24)

European Committee of Social Rights

“In its previous conclusion (Conclusions 2005) the Committee held that the situation was not in conformity with the Charter as all forms of corporal punishment of children were not prohibited. In this connection the Committee notes from the report of the Governmental Committee to the Committee of Ministers (TS-G (2005) 25, §78) that there is no specific prohibition of corporal punishment but under the Criminal Code any act of violence is prohibited. The French authorities consider that there is no need for further legislation.

“In its previous conclusion the Committee asked what were the implications of the 2000 judicial ruling which stated that corporal punishment which is repetitive and not educational is not covered by the ‘right to correction’ for teachers and for parents. According to the report some judicial decisions in fact acknowledged the use of ‘right of correction’ by parents, teachers and educators, provided that it is harmless, moderate (spank, clothes seized, ears and hair pulled) and aims at maintaining school order and discipline. However, if the objective is to humiliate the student, if the correction causes physical damage or if it is too degrading, courts tend to convict the adult.

“The Committee notes from another source that a survey by the Union of Families in Europe (UFE) of 2,000 grandparents, parents and children found that 96% of children have been smacked; 84% of grandparents and 87% of parents have administered the corporal punishment. One in ten parents admitted to punishing their children with a ‘martinet’ (a small whip); 30% of children said they had been punished with a martinet. Corporal punishment is lawful in alternative care settings under the customary ‘right of correction’. In 2003 the Court of Cassation confirmed that nannies and babysitters have this right.

“According to the report a draft law to include the prohibition of corporal punishment, including spanking, in the Civil Code has been brought to the National Assembly in 2010. The Committee wishes to be informed about the outcome.

“The Committee recalls that to comply with Article 17 with respect to the corporal punishment of children, States’ domestic law must prohibit and penalise all forms of violence against children, that is acts or behaviour likely to affect the physical integrity, dignity, development or psychological well being of children. The relevant provisions must be sufficiently clear, binding and precise, so as to preclude the courts from refusing to apply them to violence against children. Moreover, States must act with due diligence to ensure that such violence is eliminated in practice.

“The Committee holds that there has been no change to the situation which it has previously found not to be in conformity with the Charter. Therefore it reiterates its previous finding of non-conformity on this ground.…

“The Committee concludes that the situation in France is not in conformity with Article 17§1 of the Charter on the grounds that:

- all forms of corporal punishment of children are not prohibited….”
(January 2012, Conclusions 2011)

“In the previous conclusion the Committee noted that the Penal Code prohibits violence against the person and provides for increased penalties where the victim is under 15 years of age or where the perpetrator is related to the child or has authority over the child, but does not necessarily cover all forms of corporal punishment which it found not to be in conformity with the Revised Charter. The Committee finds no information in the report that the situation has changed. The Committee notes therefore that corporal punishment is not prohibited in the home or in institutions and other childcare settings and that this situation is not in conformity with the Revised Charter.

“The Committee notes from another source that High Court ruling of 1889 allowed a ‘right to correction’ for teachers and for parents. A 2000 judicial ruling stated that corporal punishment which is repetitive and not educational is not covered by this right. The Committee asks the next report to explain the implications of the 2000 judicial ruling with regard to the use of corporal punishment in the home.

“The Committee concludes that the situation in France is not in conformity with Article 17.1 of the Revised Charter on the grounds that:

- corporal punishment of children is not prohibited….”
(March 2005, Conclusions 2005)

“As regards corporal punishment of children, the Committee notes that according to the report corporal punishment of children is not explicitly prohibited in the home, in school or in other institutions. Although the Penal Code prohibits violence against the person and provides for increased penalties where the victim is under 15 years of age or where the perpetrator is related to the child or has authority over the child. The Committee notes that these provisions of the Penal Code do not necessarily cover all forms of corporal punishment and therefore finds that the situation is not in conformity with the Revised Charter….

“The Committee concludes that the situation in France is not in conformity with Article 17.1 of the Revised Charter as the corporal punishment of children is not prohibited.”
(1 October 2003, Conclusions 2003 Vol. 1, page 173)

“The Committee wishes to know whether legislation prohibits all forms of corporal punishment of children, in schools, in institutions, in the home and elsewhere….”
(1 January 2001, Conclusions XV-2 vol. 1, pages 220-225)

Universal Periodic Review

France was examined in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2008 (session 2). No recommendations were made concerning corporal punishment of children.

Review in the second cycle took place in 2013 (session 15). The following recommendations were made (21 March 2013, A/HRC/23/3, Report of the working group, paras. 120(116), 120(117) and 120(118)):

“Take all the necessary legal measures to explicitly ban the corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the family, schools and institutions (Uruguay);

“Introduce legislation to explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment of children as recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (Finland);

“Consider introducing provisions explicitly prohibiting corporal punishment against children (Poland)”

This analysis has been compiled from information from governmental and non-governmental sources, including reports on implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every effort is made to maintain its accuracy. Please send us updating information and details of sources for missing information: info@endcorporalpunishment.org.

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