France’s parliament voted to make bullying a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison, as MPs said society needed a wake-up call on the seriousness of children targeting their children. peers.

The bill was supported by Emmanuel Macron’s Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer.

Blanquer said the law sends a strong message to society that “we will never allow our children’s lives to be broken.” It is estimated that up to one in ten French children have been the victim of bullying, and social media increases the potential for taunts and humiliation in public. Blanquer said the bill was “a means of upholding the values ​​of the republic”.

The draft measure was approved by the lower house on Wednesday and will now be sent to the upper house, the Senate. It is expected to be passed in February, giving France one of the toughest penalties in the world for bullying.

Erwan Balanant, the Breton deputy of the centrist MoDem (Democratic Movement) party, which drafted the legislation, said the new law and the high penalties were a way to “engage with the whole of society”. He said it sends a strong message and a “shock wave” through society to raise awareness of the devastating effects of bullying. He argued that the new legislation would help educate people about bullying and prevention.

“This is not about sending children to prison,” Balanant stressed. “There is juvenile justice that takes into account the age and judgment of the accused. But he said criminal laws can define “a society’s value system.”

The new crime of “school bullying” applies to children and adults in schools and universities, including students as well as staff such as canteen service teams and recreation counselors. He would face a maximum prison sentence of three years and a fine of up to € 45,000 (£ 38,300). If a victim of bullying commits suicide or attempts to do so, the maximum penalty could be 10 years and € 150,000.

In reality, the law is unlikely to result in a stampede of children with jail terms – instead, there would be new community bullying awareness programs that could be offered as alternatives. The legislation also increases resources for prevention and education, as well as improving provisions for children to participate in community education programs on bullying. Some MPs argued that the risk of imprisonment and a criminal record would have a primarily deterrent effect.

In general, most of the political right and center supported the bill. But some left-wing deputies criticized it as too repressive. “We are not in favor of the criminalization of minors and the intensification of repression,” said Michèle Victory, Socialist deputy.

Sabine Rubin, member of the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), described this as “an illusory and demagogic overreaction”.

Other members have questioned whether this would be effective. Harassment can already be prosecuted in France under laws criminalizing harassment, opponents said.

Delphine Bagarry, doctor and MP elected in 2017 under the centrist banner of Macron, but no longer part of this parliamentary group, told the House that the creation of a new criminal offense was an inadequate response to the specific mechanics of harassment – “namely the powerful effect of groups” in targeting their peers – and the fact that bullying has taken place in every school, often by indiscriminate children. She said the law, in drawing attention, could weaken other crucial forms of action, such as the responsibility of school leaders to eradicate bullying.

Several cases of moral harassment which ended in tragedy hit the headlines in France this year, including the suicide of a 14-year-old girl in eastern Alsace in October. The girl’s mother told local media that her daughter was the victim of racist and homophobic bullying, and that she had been isolated and excluded by her classmates. She was physically pushed and her belongings thrown to the ground.

Macron’s wife, Brigitte, a former teacher, has made the fight against harassment an axis of her charitable work at the Elysee Palace.