The Section 59 amendments

The select committee changes to the Section 59 bill seem to have made a somewhat flawed bill, even worse. It is now going to criminalise parents for smacking their children as a disciplinary measure, yet expands the number of reasons parents can apply force (well beyond smacking) in other situations.

No Right Turn has a good analysis of the extra reasons now inserted as to why you can apply reasonable force:

(a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
(d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.

So you can whack your kid in the face to prevent him from beign disruptive yet you can not smack him for misbehaving. Confused? How did MPs come up with such an abortion? Well it comes down to ideology over common sense.

Let’s accept that a majority of MPs were uncomfortable with criminalising, regardless of degree or circumstances, all force a parent may use with a child. The challenge was how do you then amend the law so not to criminalise good parents.

Basically there are two approaches you can take. The first is that done by the Select Committee, and come up with an exhaustive list of reasons why reasonable force can be used. It incidentially makes enforcement of the law almost impossible as you need to prove the child was not being disruptive or offensive etc etc.

The other approach is that of Chester Borrows. Which is to radically reduce the definition of reasonable force to causing only trifling and temporary discomfort. So it doesn’t try to judge when a parent may need to use some minor force, it sets a very low ceiling on what that force is.

The bill, as amended by select committee, is almost the worst of both worlds. The best argument for repealing Section 59 alltogether is to send a very clear signal to that minority of parents who can’t distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable force, that any force is undesirable. But it no longer does that – in fact it provides more reasons why reasonable force can be used.

MPs should do two things in my opinion. Either:

(a) Repeal Section 59 entirely and live with the electoral consequences
(b) Vote for Chester’s amendment to reduce the definition of reasonable force to “trilfing and temporary discomfort” without limiting the circumstances

But do not let the Bill as it currently stands go forward. It will not even lessen the amount of force deemed reasonable for dealing with “disruptive behaviour” which almost everyone says should be done.

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