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France moves closer to punishing school bullying with prison sentences

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By Euronews  with AFP
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer speaks during a session at France's National Assembly.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer speaks during a session at France's National Assembly.   -   Copyright  Ludovic Marin / POOL via AP, File

French MPs have approved a new law that will criminalise school bullying and provide further training for teachers to prevent harassment.

The proposed legislation will make school bullying a specific criminal offence, which either students or school staff can be held liable for.

Those found guilty could face fines of up to €45,000 and three years in prison if the bullying forces a victim to miss school or work for up to eight days.

But sentences can increase to ten years' imprisonment and a fine of €150,000 if the victim commits suicide or attempts to do so.

Social media companies will also have a "duty of vigilance" to moderate harassing content, MPs said.

President Emmanuel Macron had pledged to strengthen the country's response to bullying by giving more support to parents and increasing the number of places where young people could be heard.

The draft bill was approved by a lower house majority at its first reading in the French National Assembly on Wednesday. The law now goes to the French Senate, where it will be voted on in another parliamentary session in February.

Socialist MPs have expressed concern about the need for a specific offence on school bullying, arguing the law is "not the appropriate response".

But France's Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has welcomed the "important step" taken by lawmakers and says the bill is designed to "discourage" bullying in schools.

"We will never get used to children's lives being shattered," he told the Assembly on Wednesday.

National statistics show that nearly one in ten pupils in France is severely affected by school bullying each year.

Democratic Movement (MoDem) MP Erwan Balanant -- who drafted the law -- said the issue had been "amplified" by technology.

"There are no longer any limits, either in time or space," he said, adding that bullying and harassment often goes under the radar from parents or teachers.

“It’s not about sending children to prison,” Balanant stressed, while other MPs say the threat of jail acts mainly as a deterrent.

Right-wing lawmakers have also supported the bill, arguing that harassment "is not limited to the walls of the school" and that "parents are the first educators of their children".