Smacking debate row reignites

The Dominion Post 23 March 2009

The smacking debate has reignited as both sides prepare for a war of words ahead of a referendum on whether the physical punishment of children should be allowed. Child welfare agencies have banded together to counter what they say is misinformation about the 2007 law change, which effectively banned smacking by removing the defence of “reasonable force”. The coalition includes Barnardos, Save the Children, Plunket, Unicef, the National Collective of Women’s Refuges, Childspace, Jigsaw and Epoch, a small voluntary organisation.

It is shaping up against the lobby group Family First and others championing a referendum on whether smacking as part of good parental discipline for children should be a criminal offence. The referendum will be held by postal ballot in August. It could be preceded by a planned private member’s bill from ACT MP John Boscawen, which would allow parents to use reasonable force to discipline their children within clearly defined limits. If the bill is drawn before the referendum, it could cause discomfort for National, which supported the smacking ban legislation after it was changed to give police discretion on prosecuting. Prime Minister John Key has said the law will not be changed back unless a review shows good parents are being prosecuted for light smacking.