22 August 2009


A seemingly resounding 87% of New Zealand voters ticked "No" in the recent Citizens Initiated Referendum about the Anti-Smacking Law.

In New Zealand, it is a criminal offense to smack your child as a means of good parental discipline. It's all a bit airy fairy, isn't it? Under this law, my parents, along with the parents of a lot of people I know, are criminals.

The law was initiated a few years ago by Green Party member and noted hippy, Sue Bradford. Since then, a guy in Christchurch was convicted of the offense - though one hopes that his behaviour (which included punching his child in the face) would have been brought to trial regardless of this law. I'm no parenting expert, and I hope I never am, but to me that seems a bit more like assault than discipline.

It's caused a rift amongst New Zealanders, this anti-smacking business. My sister, who is also a hippy, voted "Yes" in the referendum which posed the question, "Should a smack, as part of good parental discipline, be a criminal offense in New Zealand?". Louise said to me that parents need to learn alternative methods of disciplining their children, rather than resorting to immediate violence. She then raved on about research regarding the mental state of people who were smacked as children.

Um, okay then. But a law banning smacking isn't going to educate parents on alternative disciplinary actions, is it? It simply criminalises a smack. And as for further research she claims shows that a smack can lead to abuse... great. But people who abuse children aren't usually the ones who abide by the law anyway.

I'm not pro-smacking. I don't think hitting a child is that effective for anything really. But I just don't agree with the premise that if you do choose to do it as a method of discipline, that you should be deemed a criminal, and as such effectively lumped in with people who put their toddlers in clothesdryers (overseas readers: yes, it has happened here). I also don't believe that making this a criminal offense is going to lead to parents making "better" decisions regarding discipline.

Only 54% of enrolled New Zealand voters submitted ballots in this referendum. Some, like University of Waikato lecturer Mark Houlahan, refused to vote because of the question's lack of definition (how does one define a "smack"? And what is "good parenting"?). Sue Bradford even claimed that some voters would have found the question difficult and misleading, and may have accidentally voted the wrong way. Initially, I wasn't going to vote because this is not a law that affects, or will ever affect me because I have absolutely no plans of ever becoming a parent, and as such have no use for disciplinary actions towards children. I changed my mind because I thought all the hippies would vote yes.

As it turns out, it may not matter anyway. The last Citizens Initiated Referendum, about the number of MPs in parliament, was completely ignored by the government, and despite a huge majority voting in favour of the number being reduced from 120 to 99, there are still 120 MPs in parliament fifteen years later.

Why our government is wasting money on referendums when it should be agreeing to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 is beyond me anyway. Don't you just love politics?

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