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Both sides of the smacking argument.

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on March 28, 2007

As posted on CYFSWATCH NZ

Both sides of the smacking argument.
Wednesday, 28.03.2007, 08:03am (GMT12)

Both sides of the smacking argument

Email this storyPrint this story 5:00AM Wednesday March 28, 2007
By Paula Oliver 

People who have struck their children with riding crops or wood and walked free from court are being pitched into the spotlight as debate rages about Sue Bradford’s “anti-smacking” bill.

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday vigorously supported the bill, claiming it was needed to give police a “reasonable chance” of getting convictions against “child beaters”.

But opponents of the bill argue that there are already other mechanisms in the law to deal with bad cases of child abuse – and that Ms Bradford’s bill will simply criminalise the actions of many well-meaning parents.

The bill, as amended by a select committee, abolishes parents’ right to use reasonable force to “correct” a child, but allows it to protect the child or others from harm, or to stop offensive or disruptive behaviour.

The legal defence currently provided by Section 59 of the Crimes Act has been used with success by people who have, among other things:

* Struck a defiant 6-year-old with a leather belt.

* Hit a girl with a hose pipe several times.

* Used a riding crop and a bamboo cane to discipline a child.

* Disciplined a boy with a piece of kindling wood.

All were acquitted by a jury.

Ms Bradford said yesterday that the defence was used more than many people thought – and that police sometimes did not begin a prosecution because they knew the defence was available.

It appeared that cases like those were on the mind of Prime Minister Helen Clark when she faced a challenge about why Labour is supporting the Bradford bill yesterday.

“I believe that if this bill passes the police will have a reasonable chance of actually getting convictions against child beaters who take to their children with riding crops, bits of wood, and the rest of it.”

But it is not clear that only those people would be sanctioned.

National Party police spokesman Chester Borrows – a former police officer – agreed that he had seen people successfully use Section 59 as a defence when it looked like they had gone too far. But he is concerned that the Bradford bill will “catch everybody” rather than address only those people.

“It’s not only going to catch those who should be prosecuted, but it’s going to criminalise those whom we don’t want prosecuted,” Mr Borrows said.

By not allowing the use of reasonable force for the purpose of correction, the bill made smacking illegal, he said.

Mr Borrows wants to amend the bill to set an upper limit on the amount of force that could be used – leaving parents who lightly smack out of the picture.

There is little agreement among proponents and opponents of the bill about what it will actually mean.

Act MP Heather Roy said she is concerned that the bill is simply a kneejerk reaction.

“This is an attempt by MPs to try to deal with the terrible abuse and violence which too many children in our society have meted out [to them],” she said. “But those people who are the perpetrators of these crimes won’t pay any attention to whether or not Section 59 is repealed.”

The heart of the matter

* Section 59 of the 1961 Crimes Act provides a defence to parents charged with assault of their children.

* Under section 59, every parent of a child (and every person in the place of the parent of a child) is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.

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One Response to “Both sides of the smacking argument.”

  1. Hamish said

    I’m trying to make my mind up on this issue, so today I had a look at the wording of the current s59 and the proposed bill. What is the difference in “correction”, which would not be allowed as a defense, and “to stop offensive and disruptive behavior”, which would?

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