Smacking in the headlines…again!

So here is the story in from the Sunday Star Times. Opponents of the ‘anti-smacking’ law say this is a good example of how good parents are being criminalised for parenting…I would disagree and have three thoughts at the end to back my position.

A  mum’s “considered decision” to strap her son led to an assault conviction, and a judge told her that thinking about it first made it worse than if she’d done it in anger.

The woman and her partner, both South Island teachers, were convicted after they strapped their 8-year-old son, over his pyjamas, with a belt in January last year.

But after taking their case all the way to the Court of Appeal, they were discharged without conviction.

Anti-smacking law critics say the case is an example of good parents being criminalised, contrary to assurances from politicians when the law came in.

Named H and G in court papers to protect their son, the pair told the Sunday Star-Times the boy had a history of behavioural difficulties, had seen psychiatrists, and the family had approached Child Youth and Family.

When he was discovered for a second time doing “something that put another child’s health at risk”, they said it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

“I felt like I had gone down all the right channels. He did it again. I thought what else can I do to try to get him to realise it’s not acceptable behaviour?” H said.

She asked her partner to give the boy the strap that night. “We talked to our son so he knew why. We needed him to know it wasn’t OK.”

A CYF worker was told a few weeks later, and police were notified. They interviewed H, who was told it was “highly unlikely” the case would go to court. But police went to the school a few days later and she and her partner were charged that night.

H said they pleaded guilty and applied for discharges without conviction to avoid putting the boy through a trial.

Judge Tony Zohrab denied the applications, saying “the fact it was a considered decision to assault him” was an aggravating factor. They both lost their jobs because of the convictions, and the boy was sent to live with other family.

H said the decision was “backwards”. “The judge almost said if you had done it in anger, it would have been better.”

They appealed, and her partner got a discharge without conviction in the High Court, but her offending was deemed worse because she had told police she had used a wooden spoon on the boy in the past.

H then went to the Court of Appeal, where the judges said they had “considerable sympathy” for her.

Justices O’Regan, Arnold and Randerson said H was dealing with a child with identifiable behavioural problems, and an incident any parent would have found challenging to deal with.

“She had sought appropriate expert assistance with the child, and had utilised a range of non-physical measures to address behaviour.

“While not condoning the use of physical violence for disciplinary purposes, the actions taken by G at H’s request were at the lower end of the scale.”

The court said the assault was “over clothing and involved, at most, one or two hits with a belt being used as a strap”.

The judges ruled Zohrab had erred in “overstating the gravity of the offending”, and the consequences – particularly losing their jobs – were out of proportion.

H said she was overjoyed at being discharged after “a year-and-a-half of hell”.

She said when the anti-smacking law was introduced she thought it would stop people from abusing their children. “I didn’t for a second think I would get criminalised.”

Family First director Bob McCroskie said the case showed the law “coming home to roost”.

“This mother has had her career damaged, lost income and faced legal fees, and it’s caused irreparable damage to the family.

“She was honest, asked for help, went to professionals who never came running with assistance – but were quick to prosecute.”

“The warning to all good parents from this is to be careful what they admit.”

Police criminal investigations national manager Detective Superintendent Rod Drew said a review of smacking investigation figures showed discretion was being used.

“It’s a matter of degree. Generally speaking, the use of a weapon to hit a child is unacceptable.”

The law allowed reasonable force to be used, but “reasonable” was not defined.

Okay, here are my thoughts as to me, this story means one of three things.

Possibility One: The system works as this mother and father didn’t end up with a criminal conviction as the original conviction was overturned thus meaning that no one here can claim that this is a case of ‘good parents being criminalised’…because they weren’t.

Possibility Two: There is a rogue judge in the system who is using the law incorrectly and therefore this isn’t a reflection on the law…but how that judge applied it.

Possibility Three: The overturning of the criminal act was wrong, and the original judge was correct. I wonder how many parenting groups, lobby groups, parenting advocates would be okay with the use of an implement such as a strap and/or belt to smack a child with?

I would also add one more thought to this from my own personal point of view.

I wonder what happens next time there is a need to correct, or discipline, this child…what then? Do we get the strap again? Do we need to elevate ‘correction’ to something else?

Personally I think using a belt on a child, for whatever reason, is assault, it’s probably where I will depart from my ‘fence-sitting’ on this  issue in the past. I see no legal, moral or ‘parenting’ reason why using a strap on a child should, could or ever would be anything other than the reason as to why this law was brought in which promotes one more question…what’s the point? If the law was brought in to stop people using these kinds of ‘techniques’ for discipline, and parents are still doing it…and getting away with it…then what’s the point.


The Panel with Bob McCoskrie and Sam Bloore

Pat, Sam and Bob talk about drug reform and kids being left in carparks when you feel like a beer