France's Constitutional Council has struck down a law that prohibits parents from smacking their children, angering campaigners who have fought hard to enforce the ban.
Smacking, known as 'la fessée', has widespread support in France. 85% of parents say they smack their children and 70% of French public are against a total ban, according to a poll published last year.
The French parliament passed legislation banning the punitive practice after the EU's leading human rights organisation threatened to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Council of Europe argued that France was breaching article 17 of the European Social Charter which promises "to protect children and young persons against negligence, violence or exploitation."
Article 68 condemning the smacking of children was rejected by France's Constitutional Council on technical grounds. The court ruled that the article "had no connection" to the original Equality and Citizenship Bill and therefore violated parliamentary rules.
Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for families, children and women, expressed "grave disappointment" at the court's decision. She said that the ban was an essential measure to fight the maltreatment of children and that the court ruling was a "very bad move against the prevention of child abuse."
Gilles Lazimi, a doctor working with the Foundation for Childhood, said: "The decision of the Constitutional Council is incomprehensible and unethical. One of the highest institutions of the State refuses the idea that violent acts against children should be prohibited, even though such acts against adults and animals are forbidden."