File photo: INLSA

Paris - France is launching a new campaign to ban the smacking of children, a practice which, though condemned by the UN, still enjoys widespread support in the country.

Attempts by previous governments to ban the practise have run afoul of conservatives.

A 2016 bill condemning physical punishment of children was struck down by the Constitutional Council, which vets legislation, because it was adopted as an amendment to an unrelated law.

The National Assembly on Thursday was set to take up the matter once again, debating a government-backed bill put forward by a centrist MP.

The bill on "corporal punishment or humiliation" seeks to ensure that parental authority is exercised "without violence" of any sort, including "physical, verbal or psychological".

French governments have traditionally taken a kid-glove approach to smacking, fearing the wrath of the 70 percent of French people who oppose a ban on the practise, according to a 2015 Ifop poll.

Schools have long been banned from physically punishing children, but -- to the dismay of many Europeans, including Swedes and Germans -- not French parents.

Crucially, the bill would not sanction parents who continue to "discipline" their children as its main goal is "educational" -- a way to encourage society to mend its views, according to Maud Petit, the MP from the centrist MoDem party who sponsored the measure.

- 'Parental burnout' -

"We can all suffer parental burnout" and lash out at our children, Marlene Schiappa, a junior minister responsible for anti-discrimination policy acknowledged in Thursday's Le Parisien newspaper.

"What counts is that (parents) realise that what they've done is bad for their child and that they talk to him about it.

"Sending parents to prison because they smacked their child has never been at issue; it's all about education," said Schiappa, herself the mother of two young daughters.

But for Nicolas Bay, a member of the European Parliament for the far-right National Rally, equating "an educational slap" with physical violence is "a political mistake".

Smacking a child "allows one to set limits", and "it has educational value, providing it's done with the love and care parents give their children," he said.

- France rapped by UN -

The bill takes aim at a 19th-century addendum to the Civil Code's definition of parental authority -- read out to couples taking their wedding vows -- which specifically allows for "disciplining" children.

In March 2015, the Council of Europe human rights organisation singled out France for failing to ban smacking, unlike most other European countries.

A year later, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child took up the case, calling on France to "explicitly prohibit" all forms of corporal punishment of children. 

Only five members of the 28-strong European Union -- France, Britain, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic -- still allow parents to smack their children, according to the Britain-based Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.

Adopting the bill would make France the 55th state to ban smacking children.

Those in favour of a ban point to scientific studies that link smacking to psychological problems.

Centrist MP Patrick Mignola suggested that those who oppose the measure should remind themselves that not so long ago no-one batted an eyelid when husbands beat their wives.

This move comes as South Africa's Constitutional Court heard an appeal on Thursday against a judgment declaring corporal punishment in the home illegal.

The case has landed in the apex court after the South Gauteng High Court last year found the defence of reasonable chastisement to be unconstitutional.

At present, the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” allows parents to hit their children, with the justification of it being a form of discipline.

Judgment has been reserved.