Helen Clark and Sue Bradford are trying to convince New Zealand that the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act (aka the anti-smacking bill) is about preventing child abuse and perhaps secondarily about ‘sending a message’ to stop smacking because it is poor parenting. That’s the political spin, and it makes it pretty difficult to protest the changes. Let’s have a bit of a think here.
Is child abuse OK?
Of course not.
Does the law currently allow child abuse?
Absolutely not. It allows the use of “reasonable force”. That doesn’t sound like child abuse.
Is smacking OK?
Light smacking for correction seems morally OK – its completely different to child abuse and motivated for completely different reasons. It should be a parental choice.
Is there any way that ordinary people, judges or juries could be confused between smacking and child abuse, or whether child abuse is reasonable force?
This is where things get interesting. The cry of those on the left is: Yes! Section 59 is being used as a defence for child abusers because they are able to argue that their force was “reasonable”.
One of their prime examples is of a Christian woman who punished her son with a ‘horse whip’. That’s the version we hear on the radio. But if we look a little closer, the ‘whip’ was actually a short riding crop, and the boy had attempted to smash his stepfather in the head with a baseball bat. This was not child abuse, it was sorely needed corrective discipline. In fact, the incident with the ‘whip’ was discovered after the school asked about the improvement in the boy’s behaviour!
So this wasn’t a failure of Section 59. It was a triumph of, firstly, parental discipline, and secondly, the New Zealand justice system, which managed, as usual, to find the correct verdict based on the evidence. The reality is the complete opposite of the political spin of Bradford and Co.
I don’t think the current Section 59 is nearly as flawed as Sue Bradford thinks it is, and I’m very worried that the effect of the law change will be to make parents who choose to smack into criminals. That’s the opinion of National’s Chester Burrows:
This whole debate is about whether or not parents who smack should be prosecuted. It’s not about whether smacking works.
I remember being smacked a few times as a child, and hating it, and thinking that when I grew up I would never smack my kids, I would be understanding instead. And I’m going to try to stick to that. But I also know that my parents love me, and they smacked me for the right reasons.
Nowadays, I know people with young kids, and I know that kids aren’t rational like adults, and sometimes, rarely, parents might choose a reasonable bit of loving smacking as discipline. And afterwards they will hug their kids and tell them how much they love them and how much they hate smacking them. We need more parents like that, not less.
That’s why I’m going to be part of the march on Parliament on March 28, organised by my good friend Mitch Lees. See smackingback.blogspot.com for more details and other places that are organising marches.