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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

French PM accused of recycling far-right ideas in youth violence crackdown

Gabriel Attal speaking at a podium in Viry-Châtillon
Gabriel Attal was speaking in Viry-Châtillon, where a boy was beaten and killed this month. Photograph: Mathilde Mazars/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

The French prime minister, Gabriel Attal, is facing criticism for his proposed crackdown on teenage violence in and around schools, after he said some teenagers in France were “addicted to violence”, just as the government seeks to reclaim ground on security issues from the far right before European elections.

In his speech in Viry-Châtillon, a town south of Paris where a 15-year-old boy was beaten and killed this month by a group of young people, Attal said the state needed “a real surge of authority”.

Attal suggested some offenders aged under 18 could be treated as adults in the legal system. He also proposed sending disruptive children far away from their neighbourhoods to boarding schools, and will visit a boarding school next week to promote the measure.

Attal said: “There are twice as many adolescents involved in assault cases, four times more in drug trafficking, and seven times more in armed robberies than in the general population.” He claimed there were also increased “Islamist” influences among school-age children.

Attal said disruptive behaviour could be marked on final school exam grades, which would count in the university applications system. He also plans to expand compulsory school hours to 8am-6pm every weekday for children at middle school, initially in “priority education zones” in low-income areas but later to other schools in France.

Lawyers, magistrates and teachers’ unions, as well as politicians on the left, criticised the measures, which come after Emmanuel Macron urged the government to find solutions to what he called the emergence of daily “ultraviolence” among young people.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally is far ahead in the European election polls and has accused the government of being lax on security issues.

Attal suggested that it was time to question the “excuse” of being a minor in the legal system and said he may open a debate on the legal approach to under-18s in France. This could mean some children, in exceptional cases, being denied the right to special judicial treatment for being under 18. He suggested 16-year-olds could be made to immediately appear in court after violations, fast-tracked “like adults”. In France, the age of majority is 18, in accordance with the UN convention on the rights of the child.

The French branch of Unicef said Attal’s proposed measures would threaten the “fundamental principles” of children’s rights in France, in which an educational approach was more important than repressive measures against them.

Adeline Hazan, head of Unicef France, said: “These measures do not seem sufficiently anchored in prevention and support for families, professionals and young perpetrators of violence. Some measures risk worsening inequalities from a young age for children and vulnerable young people.”

The French magistrates’ union, the Syndicat de la Magistrature, described the measures as “extremely worrying”, saying they would lead to a justice system that “stigmatises”.

Politicians on the left said Attal was recycling the ideas of the far right.

Sophie Vénétitay, secretary general of the teachers’ union Snes-FSU, said the measures were “simplistic” and “irresponsible” and that schools needed staffing, funding and long-term support from the government, not soundbites.

Officials said on Friday that a 14-year-old girl had died of a heart attack in Souffelweyersheim, eastern France, after her school locked down this week to protect itself from a knife attacker. A man had stabbed two girls aged seven and 11 outside a nearby primary school.

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