Protecting Children from Violence is Their Fundamental Right
Some countries argue that the Declaration of Human Rights does not apply to their culture or political system. Fortunately, France is not one of them, and was in fact one of the first signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN committee, which ensures that these fundamental rights are respected, has unequivocally ruled that "the participation of children and adolescents (boys and girls) in bullfighting activities constitutes a serious violation of the articles of the Convention,” and recommends that member states take legislative and administrative measures to prohibit such participation. However, about forty signatories from the world of "arts and culture" published in the French newspaper Le Figaro (dated October 11th) a manifesto opposing the bill for the protection of children against bullfighting violence.
According to Philip Jaffé, a UN committee member, the committee’s position takes into account the child's evolving capacities, his degree of autonomy, parental responsibility, and the state's role in tolerating highly questionable practices. "We weigh these principles so that our position is clear, firm, and unanimous. The fact that there is a cultural argument doesn't change it much. It is the situation of the child that is at the heart of the committee's mandate, in particular the obvious, scientifically substantiated risks to the child from being associated in any way with bullfighting. The cultural argument is hollow and points to a reactive struggle: the loss of power over state injunctions, even when they are relevant and objective, the feeling that one cannot exercise one's parental power with impunity, fear of changing times, and a sense of dispossession.” This argument has nothing to do with Puritanism or contempt for art, as suggested by the appeal signed by the protesters. At a symposium organized at the National Assembly (in which I participated)(1), psychiatrist Jean-Paul Richier made recommendations based not only on numerous scientific studies on the effects of young people's exposure to violence, but also on the analysis of many testimonies of people who were deeply traumatized in their childhood by having been forced to attend the bullfighting show, under the guidance of their parents. They claim to have experienced feelings of pity, injustice, powerlessness, anger, and astonishment at the enthusiasm displayed by the spectators. The bloodshed and then the slow and painful death of the animal can have a profound and lasting impact on children. These testimonies are most often ignored in order to highlight other children who say they enjoy this bloody spectacle and wish to train as bullfighters. In France, minors of any age can attend, and the organizers encourage their presence by reducing prices or even offering free admission.
Moreover, these gruesome scenes create cognitive dissonance in children: in daily life, their parents and teachers try to foster in them the appreciation of fundamental human values such as kindness, respect for life, and non-violence. But at the same time, the child is confronted with the bloody spectacle of bullfighting, the suffering and death of an innocent sentient being, and at the same time, the unbridled joy of the very people who are supposed to set an example for them. How can children reconcile this glaring contradiction?
Nearly 3,500 scientific studies and reports published over the past decade have shown that witnessing violence begins by shocking children. Then comes a period of desensitization, sometimes followed by an addiction. Even more serious, the spectacle of cruelty also results in an increased tendency to exercise it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the evidence is clear and convincing: media violence is one of the factors responsible for assaults and violence. “These effects are sustainable and measurable. Children are particularly vulnerable, but we are all concerned.”(2) This work has also disproved the hypothesis that watching violence reduces aggressive impulses. It is now well established that violent images reduce emotional reactions to violence, reduce the propensity to rescue a stranger who has been assaulted, and weakens the ability to empathize. A large study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice also found that people who abused animals were four times more likely to do so against their peers.
"Killing is not an art, and death is not a job"
To evoke art to justify the practice of bullfighting is morbid. Killing is not an art and death is neither a job nor a spectacle. "Where blood flows, art is impossible," wrote Eugène Delacroix in his diary.
But if, it will be said, "read Hemingway, Pierre Louÿs, etc.,” then let’s read them. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway proclaims: " But when a man is still in rebellion against death he has pleasure in taking to himself one of the godlike attributes; that of giving it. This is one of the most profound feelings in those men who enjoy killing.” Joy in killing. Can one admire someone who considers killing to be one of man's greatest satisfactions? What about Michel Leiris, who considered that the "vile blood" of bullfighting symbolized female menstruation!
Faced with the feeling of profound disgust at such statements, is it not more humane to turn to Émile Zola, who described bullfighting as "shows whose foolish cruelty is, for the crowds, an education of blood and mud.”
What is the point of these references, since we could mention so many well-known authors who considered bullfighting as a barbaric relic, including José Maria de Heredia, Georges Courteline, Léon Bloy, Jules Lemaître, Théodore Monod, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Brel to name but a few.
Indeed, it has sometimes been argued that the practice of bullfighting teaches virtue. This was Pliny's opinion about circus games. In his eulogy of Emperor Trajan, he considered that this bloody entertainment helped to forge moral values that included courage, discipline, firmness, endurance, contempt for death, love of glory, and the desire to win. Here are some other so-called mantles of virtue: consider the gladiators, where Trajan ordered the public slaughter of 11,000 wild animals to celebrate one of his victories, and consider Nero, who authorized his bodyguards to slaughter 400 bears and 300 lions with javelins.
Is not cultivating virtue by harming another an ethical misinterpretation? Doesn't bravery and self-control lose all their meaning when they are at the expense of lives who are not guilty of any crime? Doesn't true courage consist rather in risking one's own life to save another? Where does the dignity of the fighter reside when his "adversary" is an innocent being who cannot be fought on equal terms?
The debates at the Colloquium held at the National Assembly concluded that banning bullfighting and participation in bullfighting schools for young people under 16 years of age is clearly a welcome step in both child protection and animal protection. Combating violence against animals also means protecting children.
(1) Other participants at the Colloquium included Claire Brisset, a former child rights defender in the government, Maneka Gandhi, former Indian Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, Laurent Bègue, Professor of Social Psychology, and Marta Esteban, member of the Independent Council for Child Welfare.
(2) Conclusion of a joint report by six of the major American medical associations, American Academy of Pediatrics, Policy statement. Media violence in Pediatrics vol. 124, pp. 1495-1503, 2009.
This article can also be read (in French) on the Figaro website