Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The smacking debate

After a bit of irrational ranting from bloggers on the Section 59 smacking debate, things have started to settle down and so I though I would throw my two cents worth in.

David Farrar noted the role of law as a guide to society of what is right and wrong has been overlooked in this debate. People know they are allowed to lightly smack their children for correction, even though they may not know what the law actually states. Also, they know they won't be hauled up before the courts for light smacking. They are disappointed when a bill is put before Parliament that will effectively outlaw physical correction, and even more disappointed when an amendment that will permit physical correction while minimise abuse is ignored by Parliament. He suggested two reasons why MPs may vote against such an amendment

(1) Some MPs want to ban smacking, and tell parents how to raise their kids

(2) Some MPs do not want to ban smacking, but instead of trying to define reasonable force as legislators, they are going to leave interpretation solely to the Police and CYFS

There is a third reason. Some MPs don't want to ban all smacking, but are happy to ban physical correction; the main purpose of legitimate smacking currently within the law. It is this removal of correction that the public is opposed to and they can't understand why most MPs will vote to remove a legal defence for corrective discipline when they don't think parents should be prosecuted for it. MPs, OTOH, maintain that such parents wont be prosecuted, but they cannot categorically state that as fact.

So recent debate should have been around two issues - and for some it was. The two issues are

1) Whether physical correction should have a legal defence - and if not,

2) Whether it is possible for just one parent to be questioned for light corrective smacking with a view to prosecuting for law breaking.

Quite clearly, most MPs do not think or believe parents will be prosecuted for light smacking. But if it is a possibility that they could be, that should be a matter for reasoned debate.The fact that people may be questioned, charged, prosecuted or convicted is irrelevant as parents don't want to be even questioned for something they think should be legally permissible.

Meanwhile Tony Milne states that Borrow's amendment and Bradford's bill are actually not that far apart - they both redefine section 59 to permit smacking while attempting to prevent NZ's worst abusers from getting away with it. However Bradford's bill also outlaws correction, and doesn't prevent NZs worst abusers from getting away with it any more than the status quo.

But Tony clearly states that he thinks the debate should not be about banning physical correction. This is despite the bill doing explicitly that, and Chester Borrow's amendment allowing for explicitly that.

However, the question Tony refuses to answer is this: If a person is charged and prosecuted for lightly correcting their child, under what circumstances will they not be convicted if the legal defence is removed from our statute books?
Although I have children, it is my view that it does not make my view any more or less valid than views of Tony Milne or David Farrar, both of whom do not have children.

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