29 April 2008

So, what is a 'smack'?

One of the problems with citizens’ initiated referenda is that the authors of the petition may not think things out very clearly. So, for example, the present petition for a referendum proposes the question: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" I suppose that most ‘Kiwis’ will say yes to that, but I would like to know what ‘smack’ means. ‘Typical academic!’ you may say. OK, that’s my job. So, if one person says ‘I’m gonna smack your face’ usually that suggests the likelihood of a direct punch to the head with a closed fist. Surely, the petitioners couldn’t mean that. Maybe ‘smack’ only means ‘a blow with an open hand’. So, then, is slapping the child’s face included? No, surely not. Not the face. Well, which body parts, then? Legs and bottom seem OK. What about the genitals? No, surely not! What about the stomach?
And how hard is a smack? I’m sure the petitioners would declare that they were meaning only a ‘light’ blow. But how light is light? Let’s look at this from the child’s point of view. A light blow from a strong adult male could cause the child quite some pain and distress, especially if only one year old. I guess that’s the whole idea! Discipline, parental love and pain seemed to be linked in many people’s minds, after all. Have you ever asked yourself why?
Is it OK if the blow leaves a red mark, then, or a bruise even? ‘No, no bruising, please!’ I hear our petitioners say. ‘Just a little pain, to remind the child, but no injury!’
OK, so how much pain should the child experience as a result of this smack? And how would you know, if you were the parent, that you had caused enough pain? Is the child supposed to cry?
Oh, and can I deliver the smack with a tennis racket? I guess not!
Well, I’m narrowing the thing down, but I’m still not entirely clear, as a voter, what I would be voting for if I agree to this proposition that ‘a smack’ is not a criminal offence. Maybe it means ‘a light smack, hard enough to cause a little pain, delivered with an open hand, to the lower backside or legs.’ Have I got that right? It does not mean ‘a blow to the head’ or ‘a hard slap that leaves a bruise’ or ‘a blow aided by an object’.
Have I got that right? Well, if I have, how come the proposed referendum doesn’t explain that?
So this petition is already in a pickle over the definition of ‘a smack’. Perhaps I’d better vote against this referendum. If the law permitted parents to ‘smack’ their children, before you knew it there’d be someone in court claiming that walloping his child with a closed fist across the head was a ‘smack’.
Oh, and the other matter is this: That the petitioners have to prove that smacking a child actually is effective in correcting the child’s behaviour, and not just in satisfying the parent’s need for revenge or to express anger. The weight of research evidence bears against that idea! See the article at this link.


At 10:08 PM, Blogger dumber said...

> If the law permitted parents to ‘smack’ their children, before you knew it there’d be someone in court claiming that walloping his child with a closed fist across the head was a ‘smack’.

Fair enough, but do you have an example of case where that happened and the parent got away with no charges (assault, abuse, etc)?

What if I have to 'smack' my son to save his life or from a really bad injury? Is that still a crime? If not, why? It's still a smack.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Grant Duncan said...

Yes, there have been examples, under the old S. 59, where the defence of reasonable force was used to acquit parents of severe assaults on children. That's why MPs sought to change that section.

I cannot think of any circumstance where I would need to smack a child to save his life. In any case, under such circumstances, if they occurred, the police would have discretion, under the existing law, not to prosecute. The Crimes Act does not prohibit 'smacking', it only qualifies the defence of reasonable force.


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