It is encouraging that John Boscowan (ACT MP) is introducing a private members bill to modify Section 59 of the Crimes Act to allow light smacking again. However we have yet to see the details of his proposed amendment. David Farrar has suggested he base it on the Borrows amendment, as this was originally supported by National so should gain National’s support again.
The Borrows amendment would allow physical discipline unless:
- It causes or contributes materially to harm that is more than transitory and trifling; or
- Any weapon, tool or other implement is used; or
- It is inflicted by any means that is cruel, degrading or terrifying.
Point 1 makes good sense. It ensures you cannot beat your children then get off prosecution by saying it was “discipline”. Point 3 also makes some sense, however it would provide a lot of scope for prosecution lawyers to call virtually anything “degrading” (he was smacked on the bottom, bottoms are private parts, that was degrading etc).
However what about point 2? Now I know as soon as I criticise that point I will immediately be labelled as advocating “beating children” by some people, but as they wouldn’t listen to anything I said on the issue anyway I’m not concerned about that. For the rest of us, what need is there for point 2, when you already have point 1?
If no more than “transitory and trifling” effects are produced, what difference does it make whether a hand or a wooden spoon was used?
In fact, it is quite possible to beat a child to death with your bare hands. You don’t need a weapon to inflict major injuries. Whether an implement is used has absolutely nothing to do with preventing child abuse, and is actually a distraction from the real issue.
It also opens up a new issue – what is an implement? Is a ring an implement if a child is smacked with an open hand but accidentally injured by a ring? What about if the parent happened to be wearing a soft glove? What about a thick leather glove?
Let’s not go there. The issue is whether harm is caused that is more than “transitory and trifling”. Forget about whether an implement is used – that is completely irrelevant and just another point of dispute.
I am not writing this to promote disciplining with a wooden spoon, a strap, or any other implement. That should be unnecessary, in my opinion. But I also know some people will disagree and I am not arrogant enough to force my views on them.
My concern is that the government should not be regulating activities (such as methods of discipline), and instead should be concerned with real crime (whether or not the child is abused).
Let’s keep our laws simple and to the point.