NZ party pledges probe of anti-smacking laws

A major political party in New Zealand says if it wins power it will investigate whether the country’s controversial ‘anti-smacking laws’ have led to parents being persecuted.

The unpopular proposal to make it unlawful for a parent to use reasonable force to discipline a child became law in New Zealand last year.

It does not constitute an outright smacking ban, because parents can use reasonable force to prevent children from harming themselves or others.

A compromise clause was included that meant police could use their discretion where the offence was considered to be inconsequential.

But since the law changed, family campaigners say, there has been a spate of needless prosecutions and the persecution of parents.

Now one MP has promised that if her party wins power in the upcoming election, the working of the new law will be investigated, though she did not say it would be changed.

Judith Collins, of the mainstream National Party, said the new law lumped her and 80 per cent of New Zealand parents together with child abusers.

A petition calling for a citizens-referendum to change the law back has attracted more than 300,000 signatures, but the current Prime Minister decided to defer the vote until next year because of a clash with the election.

A recent poll showed that 86 per cent of New Zealand people said that a smack as part of good parental correction should not be a criminal offence, although when asked if they agreed with the new law 34 per cent said yes.

Bob McCoskrie of Family First, the organisers of the petition, said: “We have stacks of evidence and testimony that good families have been targeted by this flawed law and that it has failed to deal with actual child abuse.

“Families have been referred to CYF by schools, neighbours, members of the public, their children, and even their children’s friends for non-abusive smacking. And some families have also undergone police investigation.”

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is lawful for parents to use ‘reasonable chastisement’ as long as it does not leave more than a transitory mark on the child. In Scotland, smacking is allowed but use of implements, shaking or blows to the head is outlawed.

A recent attempt by a group of MPs to outlaw smacking in England and Wales failed to reach a vote in the Commons.

Children’s minister Beverly Hughes says a smacking ban would cause “real problems for families”, and said that though the Government does not encourage smacking, it does not think it should be a crime.

She said last month that a mum who smacks her misbehaving child at the supermarket should not be criminalised.