When police recently issued a six-monthly review of the Section 59 Amendment, better known as the anti-smacking bill, proponents of the bill argued that it showed the new law was working exactly as intended.
Police attended 288 “child assault events” during the six months, of which 13 involved “smacking” and 69 involved “minor acts of physical discipline”. All but four incidents were deemed too inconsequential to warrant prosecution.
Supporters of the Bradford bill argued that this proved opponents’ fears that responsible parents would be prosecuted for trivial acts of discipline were groundless.
Certainly, the figures suggest that the police are taking a commonsense approach. But does this mean the law is working as intended?
Let’s take another look. One of the main justifications advanced for the bill by Green MP Sue Bradford and her supporters was that New Zealand has a shocking child abuse problem, and that Parliament needed to send a powerful signal that violence against children wouldn’t be tolerated.
Well yes, we certainly do have a shocking child abuse problem. But as opponents of the bill argued all along, the really violent parents – the ones who kill and maim their kids – would be supremely indifferent to the law change. The law hadn’t deterred them in the past and there was no reason to believe the Bradford bill would magically reform them.
And so it has turned out. Recent incidents confirm, depressingly but predictably, that the posturing of the anti-smacking ideologues hasn’t made a blind bit of difference where it really counts.
Last month (on the same day, in fact), the papers reported that a homicide inquiry was underway into the death of a seven-year-old boy in Nelson (the parents were helping police with their inquiries) and a three-year-old boy was admitted to Starship Hospital in a critical condition after being injured while in the “care” of his family. And as I write this, a four-month-old boy from Papakura is in Starship Hospital with critical head injuries which police say were non-accidental.
So let’s abandon the nauseating pretence that the Bradford bill had anything to do with saving children from being killed or suffering horrific injuries at the hands of brutal parents. While responsible, conscientious parents now find themselves being visited by the police for trifling acts of often justifiable child discipline, thus taking up police time that would be better spent chasing real criminals, the monsters who attack their kids with broom handles, kick them in the head and throw them against the wall continue to rage out of control. As we knew they would.