A news item, Bon Usage de la fessée - a fessée being a smack rather than, say, a clout - aired recently on a prime time TF1 series on education and child rearing.
In a parenting workshop, during which parents admitted to sometimes slapping their children, a pediatrician mused that using physical punishment to hurt or humiliate a child is inappropriate while failing to condemn corporal punishment per se.
Of course, kids are slapped the world over but it does seem to be more prevalent in France where the sight of a child getting a rap on the knuckles - sometimes a swipe round the head - in the supermarket is more likely to be greeted with a shrug than open outrage.
On top of the 80% of parents who admit to slapping their children, there is also the issue of corporal punishment at school - which is officially banned but not actually illegal.
Although this is not common practice, anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers are resorting to smacking pupils more frequently than they used to - according to both teachers, and parents’ complaints on French and English online forums.
Two years ago, a British family who had resettled in the Dordogne moved back to Northern Ireland after discovering that two teachers had been slapping their younger daughter – for “not concentrating” – in her primary school. The other parents said there was no point complaining to the head as he regularly swiped children across the head. “We were horrified,” said the girls’ mother, Sandra Wright. “We thought about sending them to another school. But I’d posted details about what happened to my daughter on an expat forum and was inundated with messages from parents saying they had similar experiences. I couldn’t risk it happening again so we moved back to the UK.”
And in January this year, Catherine Higginson of Survive France Network sparked further internet debate when she discovered her teenage daughter had been kicked on the legs by the sports teacher.
Child psychiatrist Jacqueline Cornet is a founder member of Ni claques, ni fessées which campaigns for a total ban on corporal punishment - both at home and at school. She says her group continues to receive complaints from parents, particularly those of nursery-aged children.
The psychological effects on children are considerable,” she says. “Children who are hit regularly are more likely to become violent themselves or to suffer psychological problems. It breaks down the relationships between adults and children. It needs to stop.”
However, a survey of parents, grandparents and children carried out by the Paris-based Union of Families in Europe found that smacking is a way of life in most French households. More than 95% of respondents had been smacked and over two thirds of the children said that smacking was a regular part of their lives with over half believing that they deserved to be smacked.
Indeed, when one French mother found out that her son was being smacked at his maternelle, she tried to get a petition going with the other parents but had to drop the idea because most couldn’t care less and didn’t see what was wrong with what was happening.
Respecting the hierarchy of the system always pays off in France so:
start with the school head
then contact your local Inspecteur de l'Education Nationale
as a last resort, send a letter to the Inspecteur d'Académie
find the address here:
visit ni claques ni fessées here