Parliament appears set to drastically lower the level of force that parents can use against their children even if Green MP Sue Bradford's "anti-smacking" bill is not passed.
National Party MP Chester Borrows has proposed a new amendment to ban all force against children causing more than "transitory and trifling discomfort" - including bruises, welts, skin cuts or broken bones.
"This drastically drops the threshold. It would allow a light smack. It would not allow a heavy blow," Mr Borrows said.
His amendment, signalled five months ago, comes on the same day as a major United Nations report urging nations to prohibit "all forms of violence against children, in all settings, including all corporal punishment".
Ms Bradford said parliamentary support for her bill to bring parental discipline of children under the general law of assault, which is defined as "intentionally applying ... force to the person of another", was still uncertain.
The justice and electoral committee meets today to consider a range of possible amendments before reporting the bill back to the full House on October 31.
Ms Bradford has said she would accept a change in the bill's explanatory note to clarify that parents would still be allowed to smack their children lightly or use force to put a child into "time out".
But she said yesterday: "I am not prepared to accept an amendment which defines the level of force we can use against our children."
The United Nations report urging the abolition of all corporal punishment is the result of a three-year study led by Brazilian Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, which urges "an end to adult justification of violence against children, whether accepted as 'tradition' or disguised as 'discipline"'.
"Children should never receive less protection than adults," Mr Pinheiro said.
Save the Children Fund New Zealand director John Bowis said the imminent vote on Ms Bradford's bill put New Zealand "in a pretty unique position at the moment to actually test how seriously the Government takes the Secretary-General's study".
Mr Borrows' amendment amounted to "a lot of technicalities to allow parents to continue to use physical punishment".
"I think all the non-government organisations who are in favour of [Ms Bradford's bill] are doing it from the point of view that we should not be hitting children at all."
Ms Bradford said she believed her bill had 10 sure votes from Green and Maori Party MPs. It needs 51 others to pass, with the Labour Party holding 50 of those. She believed "at least two" NZ First MPs supported her bill.
"So if Labour has a whipped vote - which is an ironic term - the bill would be passed," she said.
The Labour MP who chairs the justice committee, Lynne Pillay, said MPs did not want to undo the work of an ongoing campaign against physical punishment.
"The more you get into these sorts of discussions about these sorts of amendments, it almost legitimises it again," she said.
Mr Borrows, a former police officer who sits on the justice committee, said National MPs expected to have a free vote on the bill but asked him to draft an amendment.
His amendment would require a judge to determine whether force was used "by way of correction" of a child.
Juries would be asked to decide solely whether the level of force was "reasonable", and the amendment states: "For the purposes of this section, reasonable force is force which inflicts no more than transitory and trifling discomfort."
If passed, the amendment would be unlikely to allow cases such as the recent one of a Timaru mother who struck her son with a riding crop. But Mr Borrows said he decided against banning any use of objects.
"If Mum used a wooden spoon and smacked the child's bottom and the discomfort was transitory and trifling, the court would find that was okay. But if Mum used a wooden spoon and left a bruise, it wouldn't."
Crimes Act S.59
Every parent ... is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.
HAVE YOU BEEN|
TO THE NEWSROOM?