Herald on anti-smacking law

The NZ Herald editorial:

The Prime Minister’s appointment of child psychologist Nigel Latta to lead a review of the smacking law was an inspired one. Dr Latta, a noted defender of smacking, has undertaken the work with an open mind and has come to conclusions that should answer the concerns of 87 per cent of those who voted in the recent referendum.

Dr Latta, assisted by Police Commissioner Howard Broad and the head of the Ministry of Social Development, Peter Hughes, has found that smacking as most people know it – light, admonitory, open-handed and instantaneous – remains permissible. Social workers are not alarmed by it and police are not prosecuting it, despite all the claims to the contrary of initiators of the referendum.

The review has found none of their cited cases stood up to closer scrutiny. Police investigations that seemed trivial or frivolous at first glance all turned out to contain more serious elements than the parents had admitted to campaigners such as Family First. Dr Latta said: “In all cases there wasn’t one where I thought the only reason [the police] investigated was because of the law change. In every case, when I looked at the police file, it was blindingly obvious why they had.”

I still think the law is a bad law, and that the Borrows/Boscawen amendment would be a far better law. I even think the original Bradford bill (merely to delete S59) would be a better law than the current one which is says it is fine to smack for some reasons, but not for others – and doesn’t define what level of force is reasonable.

So I would still like a law change. However Latta’s review of the disputed cases is reassuring that the Police and CYFS are not pursuing parents just for a light correctional smack. I was already pretty confident the Police were not over-reaching, but was worried about some of the zealousness you can get with CYFS.

Dr Latta’s findings ought to put to rest the fears of many parents who have been under the misapprehension that the Bradford bill outlawed smacking entirely. It never did, though it often seemed Sue Bradford was content to leave that impression. A complete ban would have been fine with her.

Well it does outlaw correctional smacking entirely. But it is unlikely you will be sanctioned for breaking it. John Key once compared it to speeding – if you do 51 km/hr in a 50 km/hr zone that is breaking the law, but you won’t get pinged.

Bradford did indeed want to ban smacking entirely. Even worse she lied about her intentions and said it was not about banning smacking. If she had been honest from the beginning, the law may not have met such anger.

The law expressly allows parents to use reasonable force to stop or prevent a child doing something dangerous, disruptive, offensive or persisting in such behaviour. Confusion was created because the law also says smacking is not permitted as a means of “correction” alone.

And that is why I think the Borrows law is superior. It defines reasonable force (and sets it at a very low level) but doesn’t leave you trying to work out if a smack is for preventing disruption (ok), good parenting (ok) or correction (not ok).

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