We interrupt this prolonged radio silence to bring you an important announcement

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  • Placebo — Kitty Litter

So, in August, there's going to be a Citizen-Initiated Referendum in New Zealand. A referendum happens when ten percent of the eligible voting population (citizens and permanent residents over 18, IIRC) sign a petition calling for one. In this case, the question at issue (brought by "right-thinking" New Zealanders in response to the government's controversial "anti-smacking" amendment to the Crimes Act) is:

"Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Which, basically, is a crock of shit, and of no use at all for proper debate. It completely sidesteps the question of whether a smack CAN or SHOULD be part of "good parental correction", which is in essence the issue at stake. I don't think anybody would argue that a smack as part of habitual child abuse ought not to be a criminal offence, for example.

What matters is not the intention ("I do it out of love") but the outcome: how many children turn up at New Zealand schools with bruises and black eyes because their father or their grandmother or their uncle or their mum's boyfriend has beaten them to a pulp "out of love"? If the answer is more than none (and here I should point out that New Zealand has the sixth highest rate of child abuse in the world, for whatever definition of "child abuse" is used for such things), then the follow-up question should really be whether that is ever acceptable?

Its detractors claim that the law is an example of the nanny state coming into their homes and telling them how to raise their children, but the law isn't designed to "make criminals out of decent parents". Look at 59(4) of the Act:

To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.

(Emphasis mine.) It simply recognises that people who beat up kids need to be stopped, and that as a society, we need to arm the right people with the ability to tell families whose children, "out of love", end up in hospital (or worse) that their concept of love is unequivocally and unacceptably broken. It puts the responsibility where it needs to be: if you break a child's ribs and he ends up on a respirator, it's not because he was being a little shit, it's because you beat the crap out of him.

It's a criminal offence to do this to another adult, so why should it be any different for a child?

I'd really, really like to know what people think about this. I was smacked as a child, and I'd like to think that I grew up OK, but what concerns me is that other children in my country were smacked as children and never grew up at all.

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My mother had a lot of misery to deal with in her youthful years (unhappy marriage, sense of personal failure, etc, etc) and didn't know what to do about it. She'd get into rages and was far too scared to rip into my father (he was often the cause). What she did instead: hit me. Not a lot, but I knew it was too often and over nothing to do with my behaviour. I was never actually physically injured, but the psychological damage was pretty bad. When I was 14 I hit her back when she raised her hand to me one day. She stopped hitting me from that moment on. Violence needed to stop violence? Argh.

One of my girlfriends was hit like this by her mother (miserable marriage problems once again the source of the anger). At 14 she actually decked her mother when she saw the woman raise her fist to the younger sister (aged 12). No more hitting in that family.

I don't think the law will change anything, btw. But it's at least an attempt. :/
betacandy
Same here. I was never spanked (well, my mom says she did gently spank me when I was too young to actually understand "No", but I don't remember) or anything. And I turned out a very good citizen, ya know?

If anyone thinks physical punishment is *required* to raise a respectful human being, they're going about something wrong.
vizi
I dislike the way the question is worded. It feels like its been deliberately set up to mislead people. Its the first time in 20 years that I will seriously consider not voting as being the most effective response to an election poll - s as to deny any legitimacy to the result.
Agreed - it feels like that, by voting, we're tacitly agreeing that a smack IS part of "good parental correction."
geneDeCanter
Absolutely. You may as well say something like, "Should prison inmates be given iPhones as part of an effective correctional programme?"

But I'm confused: is the result of a referendum like this legally binding? I presume not, because if it were I guess we wouldn't be sitting here talking about abstention, but just checking.
Sarah
Every citizens-initiated referendum I've seen so far has been extremely poorly-worded and very leading.

It's dumb really because they have people who are supposed to work out the wording with the people presenting the petition for the referendum. Back when they brought citizens-initiated referenda in I thought they were a good idea, now I think they are a waste of taxpayers' money, divisive, and pointless.

Although I wouldn't mind getting a job as the person who words them, I reckon I could do a much better job.
Matt
I like the new bill this whole debacle has sparked: basically empowering parliament to reword or ignore (mis)leading questions like this.
Teacake
I think of this in terms of three separate issues.

1) Human rights
If we believe that humans have a right not to be assaulted, then why on earth would we think it's alright for children to not have that right? They should have at least as much legal protection as adults, given how much more vulnerable they are to other people's will.

2) Physical discipline is ineffective
Yes, children need discipline - boundaries and consequences. There's plenty of research evidence that indicates what's effective in terms of behaviour management, and physical discipline is just more likely to cause resentment and avoidance of repercussions (eg by learning about lying).

3) Physical discipline teaches children that violence is acceptable
Children learn by what's modelled to them, and if their responsible adults are hitters they learn hitting is a valid response.

I don't think anyone had the right to hit anyone else, and I'd like to see that reflected in the law.

Yes, children can be annoying. If you find them too annoying, just don't have any. There are plenty of people who like them well enough to cope without resorting to lashing out and spreading the disease. People who try to justify hitting children by saying it's 'done with love' totally creep me out. Hitting done with love, IMO, is reserved for consenting adults with specific interests.
Sarah
Exactly - the law already allows for a smack as part of "good parental correction" (ick, however distasteful that may be. So it seems to me a "no" vote would just affirm the current law.

Must check whether I can vote in this one, although abstaining might be a good idea.
Theuns
The bit that confused me about all this is that - as far as I could tell - the old law already allowed prosecution for anything beyond 'reasonable force'. So either:
- 'Reasonable force' includes punching a child in the face, in which case the police has the same freedom with the new law not to prosecute.
or:
- Under the new law, *any* use of physical force is prosecutable, in which case the police doesn't have the claimed freedom not to prosecute.

As it stands, all that seems to be happening is shuffling around semantics, aka political posturing. *Neither* position resolves anything.
Angry Monkey

The police have always had the option not to press charges in cases of assault. By having a “reasonable force” clause, this particular class of assault had a higher bar before charges where brought, and the defense had a means of arguing for the case to be dropped.

It's now a much more level playing field. The police can now pursue more prosecutions in cases where, in the past, it would have come down to, they say reasonable force disciplining their children, we say parent with an anger management problem.

It also goes a long way to setting the public attitude to one of, ‘it's not ok to hit your children’. That counts for a lot.

That case you allude to is a pretty good example of the shift in public perception that's needed here: Jimmy Mason was convicted of assaulting his child by punching him in the face, and the judge made it clear that this charge would have stood even under the old law. Yet last year all the usual suspects where shocked and appalled that he was charged with anything in the first place.

Enid W
What's evil here is populist politics, but not surprising. Knowledge never seems to have a lot of credibility in New Zealand.