'Parents use occasional smacking because it works and it’s appropriate.' Picture: Jacques Naude/ANA

Johannesburg - Family First NZ, a leading family group in New Zealand, is warning South African families that a smacking ban will do more harm than good by criminalising good parents, and harming children and families, with little effect on the real issue of child abuse.

“A decade on from the passing of the controversial anti-smacking law in New Zealand, the law has maintained its very high level of opposition; but, most significantly, the law has had a 'chilling' effect on parenting, and rather than tackling rotten parents who are abusing their children, it has targeted well-functioning parents,” says Bob McCoskrie, the national director of Family First NZ.

“An independent legal analysis at the end of 2014 by a prominent New Zealand public lawyer of court cases involving prosecutions for smacking found that statements made by politicians that the smacking ban would not criminalise ‘good parents’ for lightly smacking their children are inconsistent with the legal effect and application of the law,” he said.

A 2016 report analysing the 2007 anti-smacking law, “Defying Human Nature: An Analysis of New Zealand’s 2007 Anti-Smacking Law”, found there was not a single social indicator relating to the abuse of children that had shown significant or sustained improvement since the passing of the law. Police statistics showed a 136 percent increase in physical abuse, a 43 percent increase in sexual abuse, 45 percent increase in neglect or ill-treatment of children, and 71 child abuse deaths since the law was passed in 2007.

A 2017 survey found that two out of three New Zealanders said they would flout the law. An earlier survey in 2011, four years after the law was passed, found that almost a third of parents of younger children say their children have threatened to report them if they were smacked, and almost one in four parents of younger children say they have less confidence when dealing with unacceptable behaviour from their children.

“New Zealanders predicted all of this before the law was passed, but their concerns were ignored. The politicians and anti-smacking lobby groups linked good parents who smacked their children with child abusers, a notion roundly rejected - and still rejected - by New Zealanders.

“The anti-smacking law assumes that previous generations disciplined their children in a manner that was so harmful that they should now be considered criminals. But anti-smacking laws are problematic because they contradict many adults’ own childhood experiences with discipline and their long-term outcomes,” says McCoskrie.

“We would warn South African parents that this law will harm and rip apart families. Even just an investigation, without prosecution, by the police or social services is hugely traumatic and destabilising to families. The supporters of smacking bans, such as the UN, are influenced by political ideology rather than common sense, good science and sound policy-making.

“Parents use occasional smacking because it works and it’s appropriate. Criminalising good parents who simply want to raise law-abiding and responsible citizens is bad law-making,” according to McCoskrie.

The Star

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