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Criminalising Smacking

  • July 28th, 2005


Just the little girl’s name is enough to evocate distressing images.

We see an awful evil and feel the helplessness of children beaten or abused.

We want to do something about those who betray the trust their little children have in them.

But we must not be convinced by the argument that because child abusers may cloak their actions as discipline, we must eliminate physical punishment as discipline.

Section 59, Crimes Act 1961 states:
“Every parent or person in place of a parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards a child if that force is reasonable in the circumstances.”

If Section 59 is repealed we are left with the Crimes Act.

This makes even the lightest, uninvited and unwanted but deliberate touch punishable by law.

This is a very bad standard for assessing the actions of caring parents.

It is the “if some is good, more is better” argument in reverse.

We know that salt is essential but too much is a poison.

Children drown trying to swim but we do not ban parents from taking them into the water.

Cruel beating of children is bad, but it is not a necessary logical consequence that normal smacking is also bad.

Humans develop customs to channel dangerous human conduct safely. If we fail to respect and nurture such customs we may be responsible when such conduct becomes utterly out of control.

The repeal of Section 59 is a law change that is ostensibly aimed at a tiny minority of child abusers. This abusive minority will not notice or even give a damn that a law change has been made. The courts mean nothing to such people.

The unintended result is that it may criminalise thousands of loving and well-meaning parents.

Our existing law is very strong against child abuse. But enforcement is the key. Enforcement involves doing three things properly, reporting or detection, then conviction against evidence testing, and finally sentencing.

If any one of those elements fails criminal abusers can gamble on getting off or not being punished. When criminals know that, our law will not work. There is no reason to think that repeal of Section 59 will improve enforcement.

It will be recognised as just an attempt to impose loopy theories about child rearing by self nominated experts and busy bodies. They will threaten and force prosecutions.

Under the Crimes Act judges will have to wrestle with new distinctions, trying to avoid being forced to convict people they see as morally innocent.

This bill criminalises most acts of parenting. It will cause parents to live in constant fear of being charged with abuse.

Unfortunately the noblest intentions can bring the most savage and evil results.

We believe that the law should:

* Leave people alone, provided they are not harming others
* Not give discretion to well-meaning (but narrowly educated) judges

Give your Party Vote to ACT.

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