French school bullies could be jailed for up to ten years if their harassment of classmates leads to suicide or attempted suicide, under a proposed law debated by MPs Wednesday.
France, like many countries, has been shocked by a string of school suicides linked to harassment, often online, by classmates.
The proposed law would aim to prevent bullying, train adults to deal with it, and force online platforms to moderate content under a “duty to be vigilant”.
It would punish “school harassment” with a prison term of three years and a €45,000 (£38,000) fine for bullying that causes “total inability to work” for up to eight days.
The age of the culprit would be a deciding factor, with younger defendants given less harsh sentences.
The sentence could be increased to ten years and a €150,000 fine if the bullying leads to suicide or attempted suicide.
There is currently no specific French law punishing bullying at school, which falls under other categories, including “moral harassment”.
Erwan Balanant, a centrist who drew up the draft bill, said the legislation’s aim was to “commit society as a whole” to fight bullying.
Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer called the bill an “important step”.
“We can never get used to children’s lives being broken,” he told MPs.
Bullying was “not a fringe issue,” he said, adding that it must be fought in the name of “fraternity” – one of the three central tenets of the French Republic.
President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling LREM party and its centrist Modem allies back the bill, as do the opposition Right, meaning it is all but certain to pass.
However, the Left warned against voting “emotionally”.
“We are not for criminalising minors and increasing repression,” said Socialist MP Michèle Victory.
Sabine Rubin of the leftist group France Unbowed called the bill “illusory and demagogical exaggeration”.
Ms Balanant insisted that tougher sentencing was required as a last resort.
A recently created national bullying helpline and mobile app should prevent all but the most serious cases from reaching court, she said.
The proposed legislation also recognises that “school harassment is not just between pupils” but can also, even if more rarely, come from adults.
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