In a visit to Viry-Chatillon, France, Gabriel Attal unveils new measures aimed at "restoring authority," prompting public debate. EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL MAXPPP OUT


French PM Attal sparks controversy with proposed youth violence crackdown


French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has sparked controversy by proposing new measures aimed at cracking down on youth violence in France.

The proposals are allegedly aimed at “restoring authority” within the French education system after one pupil was beaten to death outside his school, while another was put into a coma as a result of a similar attack.

At a gathering in Viry-Chatillon, Attal vowed strict measures against those who would break France’s laws.

“Restoring authority at all levels: in the family, at school and in the streets,” he wrote. ”

“[T]is the direction and response of the State in response to those who refuse the common rule.”

Attal focused on restoring authority across various sectors, with French schools taking centre stage.

He vowed that he would be extending school hours for middle-school students, “starting with disenfranchised neighbourhoods”, to deter youngsters from “galavanting” on the streets.

Attal also proposed sending “troubled youths to boarding schools” in a bid to provide them with a structured environment away from what he termed negative influences, as well as more severely punishing those who disrupt classes.

“Young people who disrupt classes will be penalised,” he said, stating that such transgressions would be recorded on their “middle-school certificate or high school baccalaureate certificate”.

Attal’s focus on juvenile delinquency has drawn some criticism, most notably from teachers who voiced concerns over their potential effectiveness.

“From 1st to 12th grade, for reasons of my own, I was a troubled and disruptive student. With such a measure, I would perhaps not have become the literature professor that I was for 36 years,” one former professor wrote on X.

Leftist politicians including MP Louis Boyard also questioned the timing and efficacy of Attal’s proposals, arguing that he should be more focused on reducing class sizes rather than trying to punish pupils.

“Refusing entry to university to a young person is to punish them for the rest of their life,” the parliamentarian said.

“The problem is 40 students per class in high school. But savings in Education continue.”

Attal’s suggested reforms extended beyond schools, touching upon the judicial system.

He said he was ready to open a debate regarding the possibility of “establishing an immediate appearance before the court for young people … from the age of 16, so that they have to answer for their actions immediately like adults”.

This proposal drew a backlash from both legal professionals and human rights organisations, who expressed worry that such changes would undermine the juvenile justice system.

In a press release, the French magistrates’ union expressed deep concerns over the plans, saying Attal had “rolled out a list of highly worrying measures”.

They said forcing a 16-year-old to appear in court would be akin to “stigmatising justice”.

The President of Unicef France, Adeline Hazan, also released a statement saying: “These new measures risk undermining the fundamental principles which favour the primacy of the educational aspect over the repressive and encourage the recovery of the child.”

Hazan emphasised that the changes “do not seem sufficiently anchored in prevention and support for families, professionals and young perpetrators of violence”.

“Some of them risk worsening inequalities of opportunity from a very young age for vulnerable children and young people,” she said.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Marine Le Pen of Rassemblement National accused Attal of not going far enough, accusing him of mere rhetoric.

“Action is needed to restore the authority of the State,” the senior opposition politician claimed. “Words are not enough.”

She also questioned the Prime Minister’s motives for announcing the measures, stating that the Macron administration has “been in power for seven years, why didn’t they do it before?”.

The debate surrounding Attal’s measures reflects broader concerns about restoring authority and addressing societal challenges in France, underscoring to many the complexity of governance and public policy.

Attal’s proposed measures followed several violent incidents. Viry-Chatillon itself was rocked by the killing of a 15-year-old named Shamseddine who was beaten to death as he left his secondary school earlier in April.

Another girl was beaten into a coma outside her school in Montpellier.

While she later regained consciousness, media reports indicate that she nevertheless sustained “serious injuries”.