By now you probably want to smack anyone who continues to talk about the so-called anti-smacking bill. Just what is it about disciplining small children that has caused so much debate? We saw a heated protest at Parliament a few weeks ago, with people supporting Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill, people against it, people protesting against the protesting, and people protesting against them. Barnardos and Plunket have argued their cases, Christian groups have defended the right to discipline their kids, and ordinary parents across the nation have been debating about just how to treat a child’s bottom.
Most people in New Zealand have enjoyed the supreme pleasure of having their backside turn a scalding red as a result of being particularly naughty. Dad’s suddenly large hand or mum’s wooden spoon have landed on many a kid who has thrown their food off the plate, hit a younger sister or wandered off across the supermarket car park to escape. Soon, this practice is likely to be no more. In June, Parliament looks set to pass Ms Bradford’s bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act and remove the legal defence of reasonable force for corrective purposes. Ms Bradford wants to remove the defence in a bid to reduce levels of child abuse in New Zealand. Child abuse, which is already illegal, is at a pretty shocking level. We are among the worst in the OECD for the way we treat kids. New Zealand, it has been said, has a “culture of violence” within families that needs to stop. The question is how?
The Green Party has said, “Many community organisations support Sue Bradford’s bill as an important step to countering New Zealand’s rates of child abuse and this is consistent with moves to foster non-violent parenting.” Yet most parents don’t. Does Ms Bradford, and the Green Party, seriously believe that not allowing parents to smack their kids will curb child abuse in New Zealand? Do they think that the abusers of the Kahui twins will follow this law and not abuse and kill, let alone smack their kids? The bill will do nothing to curb the violent ways of the very people who make New Zealand’s child abuse statistics so bad. These parents do not smack and do not discipline their kids. They kick, punch, and push their kids to abuse them.
National Party MP Anne Tolley has a problem with the current section 59. She believes the definition of “reasonable force” is too broad and needs to be more clearly defined. However, she also believes that Ms Bradford’s Bill penalises everyone. Along with all her fellow National MPs, Mrs Tolley supports National MP Chester Borrows’ amendment, which redefines “reasonable force” to mean correction which is “transitory and trifling”, that is, only with an open hand and one doesn’t leave bruising.
There are concerns that this bill will “criminalise” good parents. The fears that hordes of ordinary parents will be marched off to jail may seem extreme, but are not entirely unfounded. Police are in the process of drawing up policies to deal with the likely instance of the Bill becoming law. As Phil Goff, on behalf of the Police Minister said, “Police will investigate suspected or reported assaults on children.” The Police authorities have already confirmed that they will have to deal with all such complaints as criminal offences. Mrs Tolley points out that Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS) will also have to investigate each complaint, adding another layer to the criminalisation of parents. This will come at a considerable expense, placing further strain on already stretched Police and CYFS resources.
The idea that smacking fosters violence and child abuse has been called into question. Out of the five countries with the lowest child abuse death rates, four allow smacking. A UNICEF report showed that the death rates due to maltreatment are virtually identical in countries with a smacking ban compared to those without them. It has often been suggested that there are forms of discipline, other than smacking, that parents can use just as effectively to discipline their kids. However, polls have consistently shown that around 80 per cent of New Zealanders do not support a ban on smacking. The vast majority of parents want the best for their children and will therefore use the punishment that they know is the most acceptable to try and improve their kids’ behaviour. The fact that four out of every five Kiwis do not support the bill shows that smacking is indeed seen and used as an appropriate and necessary tool for disciplining kids. Sue Bradford’s bill dictates how parents should bring up their kids and will legally remove what most Kiwi parents perceive as an appropriate tool to do so.