Anti-smacking law fails to reduce serious child abuse

The Timaru Herald 25 June 2008

Police statistics show parents have not been criminalised unnecessarily under the new smacking law, but Family First NZ disagrees. Family First said a police report shows an almost 300 per cent jump in the number of parents being investigated for minor acts of physical discipline since the law was passed. Ten child assault cases involving minor acts of physical discipline have been reported in the Timaru district in the last six months, with at least one of those resulting in prosecution. Nationwide, 69 of the 288 child assault incidents attended by police from September 29, 2007 to April 4, 2008 involved minor acts of physical discipline, according to police statistics. Four of those incidents resulted in prosecution.

Murray Edridge, chief executive of Barnardos New Zealand, said the statistics show police are exercising the discretion available under the law. “As we have said before, the law is working well and parents are not being unduly targeted by police. The police have said there is no substantial change in the volumes of these incidents reported to them. So where is the so-called ‘clear evidence of good parents being prosecuted’ cited by Family First and other opponents of the law change?”

Bob McCoskrie, national director of Family First, said police were trying to paint a positive spin on the law change by conducting so many reviews. “What this particular review shows is that police resources are being wasted on attending and investigating smacking and minor acts of physical discipline, yet fewer than 5 per cent are serious enough to warrant prosecution. The worst aspect is that the number of actual child assaults are now at almost the same rate as before the law change. In other words, the anti-smacking law has failed to stem the tide of child abuse, but has targeted many good parents and grandparents with the trauma and fear of police investigation and CYF involvement.” Family First wants a law that targets actual child abusers, tackles the real causes of child abuse and leaves good parents alone to raise their children.