Should Smacking Your Child be a Criminal Offence?

Should smacking your child be a criminal offence?

Physical punishment as a form of discipline is illegal in 34 countries including: New Zealand, Germany and Spain, according to a report in ABC News Online. However, currently in Australia it is still not illegal to smack your child. According to an article by Cassie White “69 per cent of Australian parents still smack their kids today” but there is a debate going on as to whether smacking your child should continue to be an acceptable form of discipline or if it should be made illegal Australia.

A lot of us remember getting a slap on the hand when we went to nab a treat or a smack on the butt if we refused to comply. Did it make us more responsible citizens or as Grant McArthur reports in Doctors call on parents to stop smacking their children, paediatric experts warn that smacking causes “physical, mental and emotional damage” that leads to aggressive behavior, as well as “encourages the use violence.”

Do we need a law to prohibit parents from smacking their children as a form of discipline or should politicians and the health community stay out of our business on how we raise our kids?

Proponents for allowing corporal punishment say that research reports that a light smack here or there does not leave long term or permanent physical or emotional harm to the child. However, if society is repulsed by hitting a person with a disability or someone with dementia, then why do we not agree with parenting expert Dr. Coulson who “believes that smacking was a disrespectful and offensive way to treat a small and vulnerable human.”

Proponents against physical discipline say we need to go directly to those involved and as the Commissioner Megan Mitchell told ABC News Online, “we . . . need to allow children to have a say in how the consequences of this type of discipline affects them.”

What is deemed reasonable when it comes to smacking a child?

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, corporal punishment is lawful as long as it is for the purpose of correction or discipline and is ‘reasonable.’ The NSW Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) Sect 61AA under Lawful Correction says that the application of physical force is unreasonable “if the force is applied to any part of the head or neck of a child or to any other part of the body of a child in such a way as to be likely to cause harm to a child that lasts for more than a short period.” Corporal punishment that is unreasonable in the circumstances may be classified as physical abuse and could lead to intervention by police and/or child protection authorities. NSW is the only state that clarifies what ‘reasonable force’ actually means.

The United Nations recommends all corporal punishment be banned in Australia. Prof Oates said in the Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) annual meeting in Cairns in 2013 that she believes that a law that allows any form of physical discipline of a child contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.

Once parents are allowed to cross the line and assert discipline in the form of physical violence on a child who decides what is reasonable or unreasonable?  Dr. Coulson says if we look up the word discipline, it means to educate children as to what is acceptable/unacceptable behaviour, but if you look up corporal punishment on Wikipedia it refers to an act by a parent or other legal guardian that causes “deliberate physical pain or discomfort to a minor child in response to some undesired behavior by the child.”

If you hit another person, including someone else’s kid, you would be charged with a criminal offence. For example, according to the Education and Care Service National Law Act 2010 (Vic.) Sect 166 it is an offence for a day care educator or staff of an approved education and care service to subject a child to any form of corporal punishment. If you hit your spouse, you can be charged with a domestic violence offence. However, it is ok to hit your child.

According to a resource sheet from Australian Institute of Family Studies there is currently no clear causal link between physical discipline (i.e. smacking) and “adverse child outcomes.”

According to the RACP, “reasonable force” can escalate into full-blown abuse when angry parents lose control and as Moloney says most infant homicides are a result of physical punishment gone wrong.

If you suspect a child is victim of abuse call the Child Wise National Child Abuse Helpline at 1-800-991-099.