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New French law allows doctors to break patient confidentiality to report domestic violence

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French lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill to protect victims of domestic violence.

The law, passed last week by the National Assembly and by the Senate on Tuesday, allows for doctors to break patient confidentiality to signal suspected case of domestic violence to the authorities.

According to government figures, 128 women and 21 men were killed by their partner or ex-partner in France in 2018. Twenty-one children also lost their lives that year due to violence within a couple.

The "Feminicides par compagnons ou ex" (Femicides by partners or exes) NGO counted 150 such homicides in 2019. So far this year, 53 women have lost their lives at the hand of their current or former partner, according to the NGO's tally.

The issue has been highly mediatised in France since last year when NGOs and activists first raised the alarm over the rise of violence against women and called on the government to strengthen protections for victims and toughen up sanctions for perpetrators.

The country's High Council for Equality also warned then that it was "alarmed" by the number of femicides, adding: "It is concerning that the mechanisms for the protection of women victims of domestic violence and their children (...) are applied so sparingly".

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures imposed to curb the spread of the deadly virus put further pressure not the government to act after reports of domestic violence had spiked by 30 per cent within the first ten days of lockdown.

The legislation approved on Tuesday also increases the penalty for harassment within the couple, in the event it leads one of the partners to commit or attempt to commit suicide to up to 10 years in jail.

It also allows judges to bar suspected abusers from seeing their children.

The newly-named Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti welcomed the adoption of the bill.

"I now intend to ensure that it comes into force as soon as possible, once enacted, so that all victims, and especially those of domestic violence, benefit from the best protection afforded them," he said in a statement.