Time For Clarity

Thursday, June 25, 2009

All parents should have the fundamental ability to bring their children up as well rounded, law abiding citizens in the best way they see fit – a right that was taken away by Labour’s passage of Sue Bradford’s Anti-Smacking law 21 months ago

Labour and the Greens might not like to admit it but, although there are exceptions, the vast majority of New Zealand parents are decent and loving – and, as such, more than capable of deciding how best to raise their children into the successful and upstanding citizens that we want them to be.

It is for this reason that I have submitted my Crimes (Reasonable Parental Control and Correction) Amendment Bill: to restore parents’ fundamental right to use all reasonable methods available in order to raise their children as well-rounded and law-abiding citizens.

The fact is that most parents do not actually WANT to smack their children and only use it as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted.  In most cases of parental discipline, guidance and correction is distinctly NON-physical.  However there ARE occasions on which a parent may reasonably decide that correcting their child’s behaviour requires some degree of physical action.

Currently Section 59(2) of the Crimes Act states that “Nothing … justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.”  This means that any parent who corrects their child by use of a light smack is now committing assault.  Thus, parents who would never dream of abusing their children do not even have the authority to decide for themselves whether or not they can use a light smack to correct their behaviour.

But the problems go so much further than just taking away a parent’s freedom to choose how they raise their child.  As though it were not enough to simply tell parents they cannot lightly smack their children, this law has created uncertainty among parents about what they can or cannot do.  It does so by stating that Police have the discretion NOT to prosecute if the offence is deemed so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.

So which is it?  Will a parent who lightly smacks their child be charged – or will police ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ turn a blind eye?  The situation makes no sense; there is no respect for the law in the fact that police can turn a blind eye to an offence, and parents are left confused as to whether they will be charged or not.

Further, the law – while stating that police have discretion over whether or not to charge a parent for smacking a child – says nothing of the Department of Child, Youth and Family.  There is nothing to stop a witness – who sees a parent smacking their child’s hand in the supermarket – from reporting a parent to CYF, which could then investigate the parent and possibly take the matter further.

My Bill gets rid of this confusion with an additional clause that states that reasonable force can be used for the purpose of correcting a child’s behaviour.  The Bill removes clause 59(2) as stated above and replaces this with guidelines that clearly outline the circumstances in which the use of force may be unreasonable.  These are: if the force causes the child to suffer injury that is more than transitory and trifling or materially contributes thereto; it is inflicted by any weapon, tool, or other implement; it is inflicted by any means that is cruel or degrading.

These terms do not, of course, relate to circumstances where the person applying the force reasonably believes that the use of force is necessary to prevent death or serious harm to the child or another person.

No one wants to see the removal of any measure that could possibly have some chance of preventing even one child from being abused.  But, at the same time, law-abiding parents deserve some certainty about what they can and cannot do – and the ability to choose for themselves how to raise their children.

It is for this reason that ACT does not wish to revert to the situation that we had before the Anti-Smacking law.  ACT wants to repeal and replace Section 59 of the Crimes Act.  This is an attempt to give parents certainty about what they can and cannot do when it comes to the raising of their children – so they know what is acceptable in the eyes of the law and what is not.

More, however, it is to let parents do what they do best: parent.  It is parents in the home who are best equipped to judge how best to correct their children’s behaviour – not politicians sitting in an office in Wellington.  The sooner Parliament recognises that, the sooner parents can reclaim their fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit.

One Response to “Time For Clarity”

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