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Crimes Amendment Bill won’t fulfil its purpose

The supporters of the Crimes (Abolition of Force as Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill are frivolous to assert that it won’t outlaw smacking. It, quite bluntly, repeals Section 59 of the Crimes Act, the only provision in place to protect parents from prosecution for disciplining their children. It does not lessen the provision, or make the justification less usable. It simply removes all traces of it.

To directly quote the bill, "The purpose of this Bill is to stop force, and associated violence and harm under the pretence of domestic discipline, being inflicted on children." It could, therefore, even be argued that to outlaw smacking—a "force … under the pretence of domestic discipline" if there ever was one—was a direct purpose of the bill.

For the purposes of this argument, however, we will assume it is not. In that case, it would perhaps pay to examine what the section (abridged) says.

Every parent of a child … is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.

If it were not for this provision, section 194, "assault on a child, or by a male on a female" (oh, look, I found another gender discrepancy in the Act), could be invoked on every parent who smacks, bearing in mind that assault "means the act of intentionally applying or attempting to apply force to the person of another, directly or indirectly […]". Clearly, the purpose is not fulfilled—or rather, fulfilled with adverse side effects.

Perhaps the bill’s proponents did not intend outlaw smacking, only to "stop people dodging conviction for attacks on children with whips, pipes and pieces of wood". Now, how those people did manage to avoid conviction I’m somewhat confused about, as the current section 59 states that "the reasonableness of the force used is a question of fact," but I’m tempted here to draw two analogies.

The first is to the introduction of the NCEA. Its purpose may have been to recognise the achievements of those considered underachievers, but it also, inadvertently perhaps, made life very difficult for the more able students.

The second is to the intelligent design movement. It proceeds pretending it is a scientific alternative to evolution, but its true purpose (and its worst-kept secret) is, to directly quote the architect of the postulate himself, "convert atheists to believers".

Which the Crimes Amendment Act more closely resembles is a point of debate, and, admittedly, one of which I am not sure. But it will remove the only provision that allows parents to discipline their children. That, surely, is not a good cause.

Related Links

  • NZ Herald: Green MP says section 59 debate getting ugly
  • NZ Legislation – Statutes (follow "C", "Crimes Act 1961", "Part 3", "Powers of discipline", "59", and "Part 8", "Assaults and injuries to the person", "194")
  • Knowledge Basket: Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill
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