France has banned smacking, despite the vast majority of French parents being in favour of giving occasional corporal punishment to their children.
The move leaves only four countries in Europe where smacking remains a legal way of disciplining children, including Britain.
Anyone in France who breaks the new law will not face criminal sanction, making it a largely symbolic change, but child protection groups said the ban was essential. They said that decades of research suggested smacking was a counterproductive practice.
Smacking children, often known in French as "la fessee", has long been a divisive issue in a country where 70pc of adults were against a total ban and 85pc said they smack their children, according to a recent poll.
Until now, corporal punishment was forbidden in schools, but the "right to correct inside the family" was still tolerated as long as it was "light and to educational ends". But, after years of heated debate, a ban on smacking will be added to the civil code under a law discreetly passed just three days before Christmas.
Laurence Rossignol, the French family minister, called it an "indispensable tool in preventing child mistreatment".
But Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a French centrist MP, has described the new law as "a ridiculous attempt to micromanage family life".
The bill was passed after the independent Council of Europe, the EU's leading human rights organisation, last year urged France to impose a clear ban after a British charity complained.