The Smacking Debate Story: Bradford's law will save our children
By Deborah Coddington, The New Zealand Herald, March 18, 2007

Despite the vitriolic opposition from those claiming the "right" to discipline their children with violence, Sue Bradford's amendment to Section 59 of the Crimes Act looks set to pass.

Future New Zealand will thank Bradford, along with the Maori Party, whose MPs had the sense to realise the negative message their not supporting the bill would deliver to constituents - Maori are over-represented in domestic violence statistics.

Since 1999, when I wrote a feature on the death of 4-year-old James Whakaruru, I have advocated repealing Section 59. Research involved interviewing James' whanau, where smacks were every-day - nay, every-hour - "discipline" for their kids. Mum's busy; smack over the head. Dad's hungover; smack around the ear. Stop grizzling; smack around the bum. Smack, smack, smack. That's often the only touching many New Zealand children receive from those they look to for love and affection.

The only way to change these people's attitudes is to change the law, and anyone who doesn't agree should be consistent and oppose laws against speeding, seatbelt wearing, smoking.

Beatings, such as the one which killed James, started with smacks.

But when I went to Parliament I didn't have the guts to defy my political party. To my shame, I shut up and toed the party line.

My argument is simply this: when cases of assault come before a judge, children should be entitled to the same protection as adults. If an adult hits another adult, he/she can't use "reasonable force" to justify the action. Allowing adults to use this defence when they hit children reduces the status of children - they're lesser beings.

Now the Act party argues that good caring parents will be criminals for administering a loving smack. In what way is a smack loving? Isn't that what abusive husbands tell their wives, and why abused wives stay? He did it because he loves me? And why doesn't Act advocate the abolition of speed limits because good drivers are turned into criminals every time they do 53 or 105km/h?

It's poppycock to say police will be forced to prosecute every parent who lightly smacks a child. Why wasn't Tana Umaga charged for whacking Chris Masoe with a handbag? Because our police force have got more sense than our politicians have.

Bradford's bill won't stop child abuse, say some detractors. That's a feeble line mouthed by critics scared of being labelled PC, and refusing to acknowledge how anti-smoking legislation has reduced, not eliminated, smoking. I disagreed with anti-smoking laws but far fewer people now smoke and that's a good thing.

Sadly, it will take many years before attitudes towards violence are changed. That was driven home to me when I saw what National MP Chester Borrows' amendment would allow: smacking kids for wetting the bed, hitting a sibling, breaking an ornament, running on to the road. I can't believe adults would smack children for this. My God, if parents still believe they can cure bedwetting with smacks, we have a problem.

And when are we going to stop confusing education with discipline? If a child runs on to the road, it's because of ignorance - he or she hasn't grasped the concept that cars can kill. Aren't parents responsible for keeping a firm hold on little hands, or gates shut, so littlies are guarded from danger? And if we fail to do that, should we take it out on the children with a smack?

Some years ago, marriage used to be a defence against rape. I wonder what today's politicians would say if we were changing that law today? Amendments defining the type of force husbands could use? Maybe when the wife deliberately refused him his conjugal rights? If she hit him? If she dented his car?

A stupid comparison you say? Tell that to those who argue the Government shouldn't regulate what happens in the home. If persons in the home are being hurt then the state must step in to protect them.

Yes, parenting is hard, but don't have kids if you don't view them as future adults entrusted to your care for a wee short time.

Sharples is right - a hit is a hit. Smacks are wrong. Helen Clark and Peter Dunne are incredibly fortunate they can't remember being smacked. Like Pita Sharples, I remember being bashed. Unlike Sharples, I smacked my kids - not hard - but I shouldn't have. I don't feel guilty but it didn't work and I should have been stopped. I wish we'd changed the law, and thus our attitude to domestic violence, decades ago. Hopefully in May when MPs finally vote, we'll make a start.



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