Tuesday, 6 March 2007

21 November 2006 - Ashburton Guardian: Editorial Comment

21 November 2006 - Ashburton Guardian: Editorial Comment

Editorial comment November 21
By Grant Shimmin

It’s an issue every parent or caregiver has been confronted with at some point, and most likely on numerous occasions. Whether or not to smack an errant child. And it seems that question is getter closer to being a decision about whether or not to commit a criminal offence.

Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill, aimed at getting rid of section 59 of the Crimes Act, which allows “reasonable force” in disciplining children, has moved a step closer to becoming law after Parliament’s justice committee recommended the bill pass with an amendment defining the circumstances in which reasonable physical force may be used. But it hardly seems that situations like pulling a child’s hand away from a hot stove or grabbing a child about to run into the road are the same circumstances where smacking may come into play.

And essentially, this bill will tell us that if we smack, we’re committing an offence. This bill had the best of intentions. It was clearly aimed at reducing violence against children, a worthy cause if ever there was one.

But as one pretty experienced parent said this morning, there’s no way this proposed change is going to stop situations where children are bashed to death by parents or family members. Believe it or not, that’s always been illegal. There are laws and punishments available for such offending.

What this bill risks doing is putting hundreds of thousands of reasonable, loving parents under a cloud of uncertainty.

According to one report today, the bill’s promoters, led by Bradford, are saying reasonable parents who give their kids a light smack don’t risk legal sanction.

“The current police prosecution guidelines and the current practice of judges is not to prosecute people for trivial and minor offences,” she’s quoted as saying.

It’s an assurance, but it’s certainly not a guarantee. The point is that it will still be an offence to smack and reasonable, loving parents who discipline their kids for the own good don’t want to be made to feel that they’re committing a criminal offence.

By all means, punish child abusers to the fullest extent of the law, but leave the vast majority of good parents to raise their kids without a legal sword hanging over them.

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