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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.

Comments

sarahdotcom
Jun. 17th, 2009 07:40 am (UTC)
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.

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