Criminal parents and innocent children

2013-08-08 00:00

ONE of our granddaughters discovered that her teeth were useful weapons when she was aged three years and a bit. Whatever her mother said to her caused no improvement in her behaviour. She regarded visiting children and those in her playgroup as fair game. The resulting floods of tears distressed everyone. Eventually, the child bit her mother. In desperation, her mother bit her back. モThis is what it feels like to be bitten,ヤ she said. The child never did it again.

If proposed changes to the Childrenメs Act are made law, a mother who does that, or spanks a child, even in the privacy of the home, will become liable to criminal prosecution. Loving parents who discipline their children with a smack, will lose the defence of モreasonable chastisementヤ.

Part of the rationale for such legislation is the theory that children are innocent, and all wickedness they exhibit is learnt behaviour. That goes against millennia of parental and personal experience. We never had to teach our children to be selfish or aggressive. They just acted that way and our nurturing had to be directed at helping them find better ways to behave.

Then, too, the language of rights supports such legislation. It is deemed a violation of a childï¾’s right to physical integrity and freedom from fear when a parent spanks a child. It is claimed that children should have the same protection as adults from physical disciplining, and that spanking promotes violence.

There is, in fact, no published evidence that reasonable chastisement promotes violence. And there is a plethora of evidence that violence in society is promoted by the absence of effective disciplining of children. Behind family violence usually stands a history of broken relationships, marriage breakdown and alcohol and drug abuse ï¾— frequently the result of failed family discipline, not spanking. Those are the difficult things that must be addressed in our society, rather than trying to apply another Band Aid, called the banning of spanking, in the hope that that will reduce the incidence of violence.

Outlawing spanking might make us feel good, that we are doing something about the problem of violence. But it is likely to drive existing family violence underground. It might just change its form, and become much more subtle and oppressive mental and emotional abuse, which is more difficult to detect and is in many ways more serious. Children are more than their bodies. They are as vulnerable psychologically to the absence of reasonable discipline as they are to excessive discipline. Withholding careful discipline is also child abuse.

There is a great danger in the proposed legislation of making criminals of conscientious and capable parents, and worse ラ of the serious secondary abuse of children who have had spankings for very good reasons, and who are seized by social workers and put in one of our dysfunctional モplaces of safetyヤ. It will be an invasion of our homes by the government, and could become an instrument of oppression, allowing the seizure of children should our democracy ever be overtaken by an ideological dictatorship.

It will be a bad law, making criminals of many innocent parents to catch the few real abusers.

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