To smack or not to smack? That’s the dilemma that’s got Kiwis in a knot as the nation’s Parliament gets ready to pass anti child-smacking laws.

But what a dog’s breakfast the bill has become after going through a select committee.

“Reasonable force” is no longer a defence alone; instead parents are allowed to use necessary force for “performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting,” but not “for the purpose of correction”.

How clear is that?

There is no definition of reasonable force, which had been the idea. Of course at the basis of the changes are the beliefs that parents shouldn’t smack children and that the law has been interpreted to permit some parents to hit their children with weapons.

Now it will be up to the police to decide whether a parent who gives an unruly child a smack on the bottom say, in a supermarket, will be hauled into court.

Along the way, the bill’s proponent, MP Sue Bradford, has had death threats.

Strongly opposed are community leaders from the Pacific, with former All Black and parent Eroni Clarke and Silver Fern Linda Vagana joining a Tongan church leader to ask MPs to reject a bill which they believe will do more harm than good to Pacific Island parents and families.

Clarke says he opposes the bill because he wants to be a parent that lovingly raises his children and if it means to use corrective smacking, he wants to do it without the possibility of breaking the law.

“I watch how my nieces and nephews are corrected by their parents,” says Linda Vagana, “and I see how Pacific parents correct and raise their children – they’re doing a great job but this bill will treat them like criminals and tell them they’re not doing a good job.”

The New Zealand Herald newspaper had an overwhelming response to the bill, with one parent asking: “If I have a two-year-old trying to shove a fork in a live powerpoint and it won’t take NO for an answer I am going to smack it. See you in court.”

And another view: “Let us stop being politically correct and admit that it is a particular racial group that is mostly responsible for serious child abuse and they will ignore the anti-smacking legislation anyway.”

“Sometimes pain is the only teacher,” said another parent.

And there was some sense: “People should remember that this bill does not ban smacking, but simply removes the defence of reasonable force, which has allowed parents to get away with abuse. Sue Bradford is a loving mother with five children, who has openly admitted at times to smacking her kids. Police would not prosecute parents for light smack, this is a ridiculous argument. New Zealand should be ashamed of our negative statistics in the area of child abuse, but should be proud that our parliament would pass a bill, which protects children.”

Fortunately, nobody seems to have said it smacks of the nanny state.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey