ACT MP John Boscawen has been hunting around for something to do now the Electoral Finance Act has been repealed. What he’s come up with is Private Member’s Bill that proposes to amend section 59 of the Crimes Act.
The amendment will change the Act so that: it is no longer a crime for parents or guardians to use reasonable force to correct children; there are clear statutory limits on what constitutes reasonable force…
That sounds suspiciously like the amendment that National MP Chester Borrows attempted to introduce when Sue Bradford’s Bill that resulted in the current section 59 was before Parliament. The Borrows amendment would have defined force as unreasonable if it causes or contributes to harm that is more than transitory and trifling; involved a weapon, tool, or other implement; or is inflicted by a means that is cruel, degrading or terrifying. If none of those criteria were met, and the force was for the purpose of “correction” then it would be lawful.
What Borrows proposed, and Boscowen now appears to be proposing, would be thoroughly bad law. For a start, it attempts to define just how much violence against children is acceptable and conveys the message that it is okay to hit children. It would treat children as second class citizens who do not have the same protection in law against assault as adults do.
It attempts to define the degree of force that is reasonable by the physical outcome of the use of that force. It does not take into account that most parents cannot anticipate whether physical or mental injury is likely to be caused by the punishment they are administering before or at the time they administer it, and whether any injury caused is likely to be more than transitory and trifling. The 2006-07 NZ Health Survey revealed that:
One in 22 parents (4.5%, 3.8–5.2) considered physical punishment to be an effective form of discipline. Less than one in three parents who had used physical punishment in the previous four weeks considered it to be effective (29.8%, 24.9–34.8).
Given that the same survey revealed that 1 in 10 children had been physically disciplined in the four weeks before it was undertaken, thet leaves an awful lot of parents who discipline physically for reasons other than that they think it will be effective. Anger, frustration, loss of control – whatever the reason, these are parents who clearly haven’t thought through the outcome of the punishment before they administer it. It is facile for Borrows and Boscawen to expect that all parents will suddenly acquire that ability. Yet that is what their proposed amendments expect.
Under the Borrows and Boscawen proposals, parents would be able to get away with administering physical punishments several times a day on a daily basis as long as each instance did not cause injuries that were more than “transitory and trifling”. They take no account of the cumulative mental trauma this could cause to the child.
It is disappointing that John Boscawen appears to be trying to revive Chester Borrows’ amendment. There is no evidence to suggest that the current law is resulting in good parents being prosecuted for the occasional light smack, so why change it?