Smacking debate back in the limelight



Supporters of the controversial “anti-smacking” law are claiming victory after a dramatic fall in the number of parents being investigated for hitting their children.

But opponents of the 2007 law change have accused the Government of fudging the numbers and the issue looks set to become an election lightning rod, with the Conservative Party, a potential Government coalition partner, committed to overturning the legislation.

The amendment to section 59 of the Crimes Act in 2007 removed the defence of “reasonable force” for parents prosecuted for assault on their children.

It divided the country, with its sponsor, former Green MP Sue Bradford, receiving death threats while Family First director Bob McCroskie, an opponent of the change, found plastic knives stabbed into his lawn.

Opponents of the law change claimed “good parents” would be prosecuted for disciplining children and it would do nothing to stop serious harm to children.

But Ministry of Social Development data shows fewer parents are being investigated for smacking their children. The number dropped by almost third over the past financial year, with 176 parents dobbed in to the MSD, down from 277 the year before.

Police say they have prosecuted just eight parents for smacking children in the five years since the law came in. Seven of those parents had smacked their child in the head or face.

The eighth parent was discharged without conviction for striking the child on the hand. Police said they were also being called to fewer smacking incidents though they stopped counting smacking prosecutions after the Government’s five-year review process came to an end.

Bradford said the dramatic drop in notifications proved parents were turning their back on smacking. “This is what those of us involved in the heart of the struggle expected. That dreadful witchhunt and crazy campaign that went on at the time, none of it’s come true.

“Anecdotally, I have so many adults who said what a lesson [the law] was. They say: ‘I used to think I had to hit my kids because my parents did’.”

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig said numbers were falling because parents made sure smacks were not delivered publicly. “I haven’t met any parent who has stopped smacking because of the law, but I have met a number who have changed the way they do it.”

Craig plans to make the issue an integral part of this year’s election campaign and if he gets in to Parliament, a repeal of the law will be on the negotiating table in any coalition deal, he said.

“It would be an easy one for National to put over the line because obviously the law is not working. Child abuse statistics have risen. It’s a silly law. The vast majority of parents think this law has gone too far.”

Bradford fears a “nightmare” scenario where Craig holds bargaining power: “Heaven forbid, if Colin Craig becomes influential in the next Government.

“I think it leaves [Prime Minister] John Key in some difficulty. It would be dreadful to see him [Craig] and his party with the power to strongly influence a National-led Government.”

Act, another potential coalition partner for National, supported a review of the law, as did NZ First. Labour, Maori Party and United Future support the legislation and the Government confirmed it had no plans to review it.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was pleased to see a drop in the number of parents notified for smacking. And parents can no longer beat their children with pipe, wood and other weapons under the guise of discipline, she said.

Key, who personally voted for the legislation, has consistently refused to entertain a law change, even after a referendum on the issue found 87 per cent of those who voted did not believe smacking should be a criminal offence.

Family First plans to campaign strongly on the issue during the election buildup. “It’s a big issue because it was a law that came into every family home. Politicians want it to simmer down and go away, but it’s not,” McCroskie said, adding figures on falling smacking notifications are “fudged . . . It doesn’t identify cases where parents are being ransomed by their own kids.”

A smacking debate is underway in Australia and Britain, with the United Nations putting pressure on both governments to ban it but Australian PM Tony Abbott said “gently smacking” can be good for a child.

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The dangers of smacking may not be true

The dangers of smacking may not be true

18 July 2013

smacking 11 July 2013
Last week, on Facebook, a friend of mine linked to a Yahoo blog post whose title caught my eye: “Spanking Linked to Mental Illness, Says Study.” My husband and I have a 14-month-old boy, whom we’ve never planned to spank. Still, we have years of discipline ahead of us, and I was curious about the findings.

So I read the story. Then I read the study it was based on. Then I got mad.

Despite the Yahoo headline, and many others like it, the study, published in Pediatrics in early July, does not actually link spanking to mental illness. In fact, the study has nothing to do with spanking at all. Canadian researchers asked 34,000 adults how often they had been pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped, or hit by their parents or other adults when they were children. The authors explain that they were trying to assess the long-term effects of regular harsh physical punishment, which, they write, “some may consider more severe than ‘customary’ physical punishment (i.e., spanking).” Ultimately, the researchers reported that adults who have mental problems are more likely to say they were pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped, or hit by their parents than healthy adults are.

Yes, OK. Abuse is bad. But now I wanted to know: What about spanking? According to a 2011 study, more than half of all American parents spank their toddlers; some studies have put the number closer to 60 percent. But the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes it, and the practice is illegal in 32 countries, including Spain, Israel, and all of Scandinavia. So what’s the deal—are slaps on the tush OK if your children deserve it, or will it screw them up for life?

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