Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Beat the children well

New Zealand has a dark secret that no one here wants to talk about: Child abuse. UN agencies routinely find high levels of child abuse in New Zealand. In recent years there have been some horrific and sickening cases of violence directed at children, too often fatally. Just today the Dominion Post reported on a case in which “a three-month-old baby was left brain damaged and partially blind after an assault with force equal to that of a car accident.” The baby’s assailant, currently on trial, was his father.

So against this backdrop the propaganda campaign against Green MP Sue Bradford’s proposed law on smacking is sickening in its own right. Opponents, led by social and Christian conservatives, have demanded the right to smack their children. Their disinformation campaign has tried to fool people into believing that the proposed law will force the police to arrest and prosecute parents who give their children a light smack. That claim is an absolute and deliberate distortion.

The Crimes Act already outlaws assault, but a parent can get away with pretty severe physical abuse by claiming they were exercising “reasonable force”. In such cases the police can’t prosecute a parent for clear assault. In
America, we’d say they “got off on a technicality”, but this isn’t a technicality, it’s the intention of the law.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said:

The bill is about legal defences to the crime of assault. It is not the normal practice of our police to rush around prosecuting technical assault which happens day in, day out on the sports field, on the streets, in the bars and in the homes. The point of the Bradford bill is to enable the police to successfully prosecute serious child beaters and if we're serious about tackling the problem of violence against children in our society—which is rife—then it's an important measure.

Contrary to the propaganda, there’s nothing in
Bradford’s bill that outlaws smacking itself. She said:

My bill does not deny good parents who may occasionally smack their children, nor is it a ban on smacking. If I wanted to make smacking a criminal offence I would have found a way to define it.

Seems pretty clear cut. But not to opponents, who loudly proclaim their right to smack their children. Since light smacking is and will remain legal, one can only assume that opponents are demanding the right to beat up their children.

Obviously, most opponents would never dream of beating children, even if some would and do. Most of the opponents are decent people who mainly don’t want the government telling them how to parent. That’s an area where reasonable people can reasonably disagree.

These ordinary people have been deceived and manipulated by a cynical right wing that’s using them to get the current government, whom they despise. A reasonable discussion has become impossible because the right wing has successfully framed the debate as being about parental rights, and the imaginary threat of good parents being prosecuted.

But who, exactly, speaks for the children?

Update 28 March 2007: MPs are under increasing pressure to vote against Sue Bradford’s bill, with MPs sometimes getting 200 emails an hour, according to a Dominion Post article. The same article reported that Prime Minister Helen Clark said that one of the main groups backing a newspaper ad campaign aimed at defeating the bill, Focus on the Family New Zealand, has ties to “an evangelical group in the US with ‘extreme, right wing fundamentalist views’”. The article also reported that an MP from the right wing National Party, Chester Borrows, “said Labour's claims about US Focus on the Family leader James Dobson were ‘way off beam’”. Anyone who knows anything about American politics knows that Dobson’s group does exhibit “extreme, right wing fundamentalist views”. If National doesn’t know that, one wonders about who else their friends might be.

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