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Fisking Ian Hassall: The Arbitrary Ethical Reasoning on the Smacking Referendum

July 10th, 2009 by Matt

Recently Dr Ian Hassall gave a presentation, on the upcoming referendum on section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, entitled: How did we come to have a law that supported hitting children? This presentation defends the thesis that mild physical punishment (smacking) is wrong and should remain illegal in New Zealand. In this post I will critically evaluate Hassall’s arguments and demonstrate why they fail.

Much of Hassall’s article discusses the evolutionary, legal and religious origins of corporal punishment and while I disagree with much of his analysis, and I am sure Paul Moon would have a few things to say about his historical claims regarding early Maori not engaging in violence against children, for the sake of space, I will forgo addressing this. I will also put to one side Hassall’s caricatured picture of ‘evangelical views’ on the doctrine of original sin which does not include a teaching on the necessity of inflicting pain repeatedly on children (I intend to do a Sunday Study on the biblical teachings surrounding this issue in the near future). Strictly speaking, the origins of the practice is irrelevant; the real issue is: now that it is here, is it wrong, is corporal punishment morally permissible and should it be illegal? These are questions of morality and ethics. My critique will focus on these aspects.

Evidence Shows Smacking Does Not Harm
Hassall begins his discussion of the ethical questions by conceding, contrary to the standard assertions from opponents of corporal punishment, that “a considerable body of research” shows “no detectable harm to children who have been mildly physically punished when compared with children who have had no such punishment.” This concession raises an immediate question; if mild corporal punishment is no more harmful than other forms of discipline, which are legal and considered morally unproblematic, why then is corporal punishment singled out for censure and prohibition? Hassall puts up several arguments, I will address the most significant ones.

Equality before the Law
Hassall argues against mild forms of corporal punishment by noting that the same acts would undoubtedly constitute a crime if done to an adult;

The main argument against legally sanctioned assaults on children has never been a question of whether or not it does harm, as can be seen by applying the same argument to assaults on adults.

The law that makes it a criminal offence to assault an adult does not rely for its justification on whether or not it does harm. If evidence was lacking for any ill effects from a certain level of assault by a man on his wife, for example, it would still not be acceptable. … The central issue is not whether or not harm is done but whether or not one person is entitled to assault another.

The implicit assumption behind these appeals is that, if it is a crime to do something to an adult then it must also be a crime to do the same thing to a child. This kind of reasoning seems pervasive in the arguments of those who criticise corporal punishment. The problem is that the assumption is false.



It is a criminal offence (theft) for a man to confiscate his wife’s property without her consent; similarly, it would be a criminal offence (false imprisonment) for a man to prevent his wife from leaving her room or her house. Yet no sensible person thinks that it ought to be a crime for parents to ground their child or confiscate property when their child is acting out.

Corporal punishment does not seem different from other forms of parental discipline in this respect. Both corporal punishment, like smacking and non-corporal punishments, like groundings and confiscations, are such that if one adult did them to another they would be illegal.

The Right to Physical Integrity
A second argument Hassall raises is that children have a right to physical integrity, “the right of children to physical integrity is recognised by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Twenty-three countries have recognised this right in their law.” Now the argument that we should adopt a policy on something just because twenty-three other countries have done so is not compelling in and of itself.

Now, I accept that children have a right to physical integrity. The obvious problem, however, is that not all forms of corporal punishment damage a person’s physical integrity. Some forms, like those that inflict injuries upon their victims, clearly do but the fact that some forms of corporal punishment violate a right does not entail that all do – anymore so than the fact that some forms of non-corporal punishment, such as locking a child up in a cage without food or water, mean that all forms of non-corporal punishment are unjust. Again there appears no reason for concluding that corporal punishment is wrong or unjust by this argument.

Feeling Guilty
Hassall notes that parents sometimes feel guilty when they engage in corporal punishment. “It feels wrong and when we reflect, we know in our hearts it is wrong. What ordinary parent can recall without remorse the look of fear on the child’s face when they raised their arm to strike?” The problem again is that this is not unique to corporal punishment. What parent does not feel upset, for example, when they see their child crying hysterically as a result of being sent to their room or not being allowed to watch a TV show or missing out on an event they were looking forward to due to their misbehaviour? Once again this argument gives us no reason for singling out mild corporal punishment as wrong but not other forms of non-corporal punishment. The argument applies equally to all forms of punishment that make parents feel bad when administering them.

Normalisation of Hitting
Hassall pulls out another common argument against corporal punishment, that it sends the message that “hitting people is normal.” He notes, “if as parents we have become inured to the fear and pain we cause by hitting our children, what have we become? And if our children over the years become used to us hitting them and regard it as normal, what have they become?”

It is evident from this comment that Hassall’s conclusion is decided aprori and read into the evidence instead of being inferred from it. In the previous paragraph I noted his claim that if parents feel bad about corporal punishment then this shows it is bad, here he suggests if they do not feel this way then this also shows it is bad. In other words, no matter what the facts are, he draws the same conclusion. But more importantly, if Hassall’s argument is sound then an analogous argument shows that non-corporal punishments are unjustifiable.

If smacking children teaches them that hitting others is normal then wouldn’t grounding them teach that restricting others liberty is normal? Wouldn’t confiscating their property teach that taking others property without their consent is normal? All punishment by its nature involves subjecting someone to something unpleasant, usually without their consent, which in normal circumstances it would be wrong to do; consider incarceration or periodic detention. Given that one of the functions of punishment is deterrence, all forms of punishment involves some degree of threatening others and scaring them away from wrongdoing. Not only is this an argument against smacking, it is also an argument against our justice system.

Degradation and Indirect Harm
Hassall offers two final arguments against the legality of mild corporal punishment. The first is that mild corporal punishment causes indirect harm to children and the second is that it is degrading.

Turning to first of these arguments, Hassall notes,

The old law propped up a sense of entitlement to strike children. This sense of entitlement, in an angry person with limited self control, can be the beginning of a beating. Surveys of adults found guilty of abuse of children have revealed that usually the episode of abuse began with the intention to punish and escalated.

This is a very bad argument. Essentially Hassall is arguing that mild corporal punishment is wrong because if people with limited self-control engage in it then it will escalate into a beating. He also notes that often beatings come about as a result of such escalation. The problem here is that these facts are true of many legal and perfectly permissible activities. Spousal abuse often results following escalation of a marital argument. If a person with limited self-control argues with his or her spouse he or she may lose control and commit assault. However, it does not follow that it is wrong to argue with one’s spouse nor does it follow that such arguments should be illegal. Likewise, if people with limited self-control drink alcohol they may drink excessively, get in a car and kill someone. Many criminal offences result from an escalation of drinking; does it follow that any consumption of alcohol should be illegal?



Hassall’s main and most important argument, however, is the claim that mild corporal punishment is “dehumanising” he notes that,

Women, servants and soldiers, once subject to legally sanctioned corporal punishment are deemed in modern times to have the right to be free from assault and the threat of assault and from the oppression and dehumanisation that accompanies the entitlement of others to inflict pain upon them.

Here Hassall singles out a feature that he contends mild corporal punishment possesses that other punishments do not. In modern times, adults can be subject to legally sanctioned punishments, like fines and incarceration but they cannot be subject to corporal punishment and this is because the latter (not the former) is “dehumanising” in a way that the others are not. This, he thinks, is the reason smacking should remain illegal.



The problem with this argument is the central claim behind it, that mild corporal punishment is demeaning in a way that other forms are not. David Benatar makes the point well;

Here it is noteworthy that there are other forms of punishment that lower people’s standing even more than corporal punishment, and yet are not subject to similar condemnation. Consider, for example, various indignities attendant upon imprisonment, including severe invasions of privacy (such as strip-searches and ablution facilities that require relieving oneself in full view of others) as well as imposed subservience to prison wardens, guards, and even to more powerful fellow inmates. My intuitions suggest that this lowering of people’s standing surpasses that implicit in corporal punishment per se, even though it is obviously the case that corporal punishment could be meted out in a manner in which it were aggravated…Therefore, if we think that current practices in prison life are not wrong on grounds of degradation, then we cannot consistently say that all corporal punishment is wrong on these grounds.

Benatar’s point is that one cannot claim that corporal punishment is less dehumanising than current legal punishments which “in modern times” are legally sanctioned against adults. Once this is realised, the central premise behind Hassall’s objection collapses; he has not singled out a property that is unique to corporal punishment that does not equally apply to any other form of punishment.



I began this post noting that Hassall concedes that mild corporal punishment causes no more harm than many punishments which are both permissible and legal. I conclude, by noting that mild corporal punishment does not differ in any of the other features Hassall mentions either. All punishments done to children would be crimes if done by one private adult to another. If any punishment sends the message that one can mistreat another then all do. There are numerous perfectly acceptable practices which, when engaged in by people who lack self control, escalate into crime. Having to inflict any punishment is something loving parents find unpleasant and corporal punishment is no more dehumanising than many other punishments.

Far, from showing that mild corporal punishment, such as smacking, should be singled out for prohibition, Hassall’s argument suggests that it is no more problematic than many other forms of discipline, which good parents can and do permissibly utilise. Hassall’s moral case against mild corporal punishment then is arbitrary and appears to have little rational basis.

David Benatar “Corporal PunishmentSocial Theory & Practice, Summer 1998, Vol 24, Issue 2, accessed July 3 2009.

RELATED POSTS:
Fisking Margaret Mayman: The Flawed Moral Theology on the Smacking Referendum
We’re Confused about the Anti-Smacking Referendum Question
No Defences Permitted for the Accused

(This post was authored by Matt and was accidentally posted under Madeleine’s account.)


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41 responses so far ↓

  • All so obvious, and yet these people think they are being rational. What they have is an unreasonable and irrational fear of trifling pain.

    Regarding the argument that "you can't hit an adult", I agree with your rebuttal. We could also present this in another way. If we gain agreement from Dr Ian Hassall that it is fine to demand children eat healthy food, surely we can walk up to adults and chastise them for eating unhealthy food. "Is that your third chocolate bar Mr Hassall, really, you should know better. Off to your room until you promise not to be a greedy sod"

    Because we can treat all adults as if they are our children, since his logic argues vice-versa! You couldn't disagree that it would be for the betterment of the adult in question :-)

    Recent blog post: Cool Friday Science

  • It seems that conclusions drawn from feelings trump science to the point that the only accepted science is that which agrees with feelings.

    The Christian writer Steve Farrar in Point Man wrote of a young boy killed as his father watched because the father had not taught him to obey. The father's screams for the boy to stop were unheeded resulting in the boy running into the path of a moving car.

    I think Hassall also forgets that young children do not have enough life experience to benefit from a parent's reasoning and corporal punishment is a language that they readily understand.

    Thanks for this posts. It has helped me codify what my thoughts on the matter.

    Recent blog post: More On Honduras

  • I agree with a lot of your arguments, but then keep asking myself: Why do Christians put so much effort into defending the right to hit kids? OK – you have good arguments that it is no worse than other forms of discipline – but do you have any arguments it is BETTER than other forms. In other words: would anything BAD happen if all the parents out their stopped using hitting kids as a form of discipline and used other methods?

  • Why do Christians put so much effort into defending the right to hit kids?

    Smack kids.

    Christians claim that parents have been given responsibility of raising children, not the state.

    There is evidence that smacking is more effective and results in quicker changes of behaviour. Smacking is not about forcing children to spell correctly etc., it is about correcting rebellion.

    Good behaviour is rewarded, bad behaviour is punished.

    As far as keeping children away from roads and water, smacking seems the best option.

    I am not certain how much we can claim causation, but there is strong correlation with decreasing corporeal punishment in schools and worsening behaviour.

    Recent blog post: Am I dumb?

  • I agree with the previous comment: why do Christians put so much effort into defending the "right" to smack?

    The way in which you choose to reject the dehumanisation argument is particularly troubling. It is, in a way, nothing more than a tu quoque argument: ie, we, as a society, do lots of other things to adult prisoners that are dehumanising; therefore, even if corporal punishment is dehumanising, because we dehumanise those convicted of crimes, it is unobjectionable. Would it be radical to say that, ethically, many practices in modern prisons are objectionable!

    Why not put energy into speaking out against all situations in which those made in God's image are dehumanised?

    Another point on which I would be interested in your response: when should a child be entitled to protection from mild corporal punishment? Should corporal punishment of a 15-year-old be legally protected?

  • Good, logical arguments here.

    Re your point "Equality Before The Law":

    Sec 59 of the Crimes Act as written by the anti-smacking brigade beneficently permits parents to use force for several purposes when dealing with their children (yes, that's sarcasm), yet if an adult used force against another adult for those purposes it would be illegal and rightly so.

    Therefore the anti-smacking brigade is acknowledging that the normal rules of conduct governing relationships between adults do not apply to relationships between parents and children, and their mantra of "children should have the same legal protections as adults" is proven to be untrue by the law that they wrote, and those who utter the mantra are shown to be dishonest. If their mantra was true and honest they would campaign against all forms of parental use of force against children, including forcible nappy changes.

    The anti-smacking brigade should admit the truth, i.e. that they have an ideological objection to giving a child a swat on the rump steak for the purposes of correction/training, and that they want to control how other people raise their children. Where do they get this latter notion from? The anti-smacking brigade is almost all leftist, and if you look in the Communist Manifesto you will find a doctrine of state control of children.

    The anti-smacking law (Bradford called it that) means that the state has effective and legal control of the raising of every child in NZ, as described in the posts linked to below. This is utterly evil.

    The fundamental issue is this: no state or person has the right to tell another person how to raise their children.

    The anti-smacking law lets citizens be agents of state terrorism

    Update: the anti-smacking law lets citizens be agents of state terrorism

    Tangentially, this issue highlights some of the problems with democracy, i.e. that democracy is mob rule and results in having "morally uninhibited demagogues" running a country. The mob that rules NZ is grossly morally uninhibited and they appoint like demagogues to go to Wellington and run the country for them. Those demagogues demonstrated their lack of moral inhibition by ignoring the fact that the majority of the population (at least 83%) opposed the anti-smacking law, and by telling a bunch of lies about the situation then and now.

    The problem with democracy – part one

    Recent blog post: • School Food Trust wants to change the diet of a nation

  • why do Christians put so much effort into defending the "right" to smack?

    Not only Christians. Plenty of us who can recognise crap legislation when we see it are atheist/agnostic.

    As to why, read the post. Smacking comes in handy as a last resort – if you want to ban it, come up with some plausible basis for doing so, not bullshit.

  • Plausible basis:

    Many many many parents manage to raise well adjusted children without the need to resort to whacking kids.

  • Does "hit kids" make it a little too real so you had to replace it with "smack"?

    The reality is parents are hitting kids… please don't tone it down!

  • Max: many many many people manage to successfully travel from A to B without owning a car. Is that a plausible basis for banning cars?

    Re your 9:28:

    We call it a "smack" to indicate that it is (usually) a swat on the rump steak or similar given by parents for the purpose of correction/training. It is the anti-smacking brigade – and the media – who repeatedly tries to say that a "smack" and a "beating" (or similar term, such as "hitting") is the same thing, which they are not. Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see the difference between a swat on the rump steak and hitting a kid on the head with a lump of concrete – unless of course their ideology is blinding them to the truth.

    As I said above, the fundamental issue is this: no state or person has the right to tell another person how to raise their children. All other issues are diversions.

    Recent blog post: • School Food Trust wants to change the diet of a nation

  • Dumb argument, Max. There are plenty of parents who never hit their kids who are raising self-indulgent, indisciplined monsters. There are also plenty of parents who have smacked their kids and their kids have, miraculously, turned out completely normal.

    The real question here is what need did the government have to restrict parents in their choice of methods of discipline? It cannot be argued that it was to prevent further escalation in child abuse as this is clearly not happening. In the past decade the numbers of notifications of child abuse to CYFS has nearly quadrupled. I find it hard to accept that this is simply additional notifications. The repeal of section 59 has made zero difference in our child abuse stats.

    The only other justification a government could make for this level of interference is that the majority of New Zealanders find smacking reprehensible. This is also clearly not so.

    I mist therefore come to the conclusion that this law was repealed entirely on ideological grounds, against the will of the Majority. There is a word from laws such as this. Tyranny.

    It is because of this affront to good government, that this law must be reversed as soon as possible. It has little to do with whether smacking is a good, bad or indifferent method of discipline.

    Recent blog post: Smacking Intimidation

  • If its all about government restriction… I expect you will be out protesting for decriminalization of drugs and pornography as well? Its not about that though is it? You actually want the government to intervene and uphold good laws. You just disagree about this law. So lets have no more nonsense about government intervention on our lives.

    If the majority wanted prostitution/heroin/rape/whatever legalized – would that be a good reason to do so… you flip flop from wanting what is right to wanting what is popular. Make up your mind (that goes for a few other people on here too…)

    In my experience the "will of the Majority" is the biggest Tyranny of all.

    My initial point was this: If parents are capable of raising children without hitting them (or "smacking" if you prefer that… although "I smacked her across the face" does not really sound much better to me… but anyway)… who cares whether you are allowed to hit them or not. Just use other methods.

  • I use "hit" to indicate what is actually going on and take away the comforting language that makes it seem that you are doing something good…. rather than resorting to violence because you can't out think a four year old.

    "no state or person has the right to tell another person how to raise their children"

    Oh well… if you believe that there will be a lot of happy child molesters out there. But (being charitable to you) you don't really believe the statement above. You simply disagree about exactly what the state may or may not restrict.

    I am sure that you agree with me that the state and another person can legitimately say that a parent can NOT sexually molest/starve/"hit a kid on the head with a lump of concrete"/etc/etc . You just think that the government is going too far – not that they should not be concerned for how parents act at all. So again – lets drop all this "state control" nonsense and talk about the real issue: why are some parents capable of raising children without resorting to violence – while others are not?

  • "Max: many many many people manage to successfully travel from A to B without owning a car. Is that a plausible basis for banning cars?"

    If they can do it with no loss of convenience – travel just as quickly – and carry the same amount of luggage with them – and not get wet – etc. etc. etc. then YES.

    However your analogy does not apply to the real world (at least not my country….) and is hence irrelevant.

  • Max:

    Re your 1:00: it's not an analogy, it's a reductio ad absurdum and it's very relevant.

    Re your 12:54:

    rather than resorting to violence because you can't out think a four year old. If you think that parents smack for this reason then clearly you have no understanding of the philosophy that lies behind smacking and, with all due respect, you should not speak about things you are ignorant of. Your belittling of parents who smack is also extremely arrogant and a tactic from the gutter, albeit one used often by the anti-smacking brigade.

    But (being charitable to you) you don't really believe the statement above. You simply disagree about exactly what the state may or may not restrict. You demonstrate gross arrogance by assuming that you know what I believe. Again you are incorrect and are speaking about something that you know nothing about.

    I do not believe that the state is entitled to restrict anything. However, the state may punish violations of the non-aggression axiom, including sexual abuse. There's a huge difference between those two things. IMHO a smack – usually a swat on the rump steak or similar – is not a violation of the non-aggression axiom.

    So again – lets drop all this "state control" nonsense and talk about the real issue: why are some parents capable of raising children without resorting to violence – while others are not?

    That is not the real issue, and your second implication that parents who smack are inferior in some way because they resort to so-called violence is another example of gross arrogance.

    I will not enter into further debate with you because you will not restrict yourself to reasoned and rational arguments. Therefore nothing can be implied from my lack of response to any future comments made by you. If you are a decent person you will not make any further criticisms of me or my arguments.

    Recent blog post: • School Food Trust wants to change the diet of a nation

  • "You could all do things my preferred way, so why shouldn't you be forced to?"

  • "You could theoretically all do things my preferred way, so why shouldn't you be forced to?"

  • Max asks, “If the majority wanted prostitution/heroin/rape/whatever legalized – would that be a good reason to do so.”

    Leaving aside some of his ridiculous examples I would say when we are talking about a substantial majority and the issue is a moral one then the government should listen to the wishes of the majority.

    There is no way a majority would support the legalisation of heroin or rape. I do not believe the majority supported the legalisation of street soliciting but a minority also forced this law on the majority.

    Marijuana is a much better example. I am opposed to the decriminalisation let alone the legalisation of marijuana. However, if a group were motivated enough to get 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for the decriminalisation of marijuana and 70% of the voters voted in favour I would happily live with it. That is what is called democracy.

    Max can you think of any realistic issues where liberals could get 70% of the vote and conservatives would not accept the rule of the majority? That is the difference between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives generally are willing to accept the rule of the majority whereas liberals are so convinced the know best on every issue they are willing to use whatever means necessary to achieve their ends.

  • Max asks, “If the majority wanted prostitution/heroin/rape/whatever legalized – would that be a good reason to do so.”

    Leaving aside some of his ridiculous examples I would say when we are talking about a substantial majority and the issue is a moral one then the government should listen to the wishes of the majority.

    There is no way a majority would support the legalisation of heroin or rape. I do not believe the majority supported the legalisation of street soliciting but a minority also forced this law on the majority.

    Marijuana is a much better example. I am opposed to the decriminalisation let alone the legalisation of marijuana. However, if a group were motivated enough to get 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for the decriminalisation of marijuana and 70% of the voters voted in favour I would happily live with it. That is what is called democracy.

    Max can you think of any realistic issues where liberals could get 70% of the vote and conservatives would not accept the rule of the majority? That is the difference between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives generally are willing to accept the rule of the majority whereas liberals are so convinced the know best on every issue they are willing to use whatever means necessary to achieve their ends.

  • In think you just DID enter into a debate with him…lol

  • " If you are a decent person you will not make any further criticisms of me or my arguments."

    Sorry… had to reply to this bit. Made me laugh so much! A 'decent' person does not criticize another's arguments!

    But someone who says:

    "I do not believe that the state is entitled to restrict anything" is not someone I can take seriously anyway.

    And I expect you not to reply to this…you promised remember!

    Chuck: I am not a believer in democracy – so I guess we are on different wave lengths.

  • Hey Max,

    Is the use of reasonable force a violent act?

  • Thanks, Max. So, since you reckon the use of "reasonable force" is a violent act, are you then opposed to the present Section 59 which says the use of reasonable force with children is justified if it

    "is for the purpose of—
    (a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
    (b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
    (c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
    (d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting."

  • I don't really care what the law is to be honest.

    And your above statement assumes that I think that violence is always wrong.

    I was simply answering your question: Is reasonable force a violent act?

    Well punching out a man with a gun who is about to shoot someone is clearly violent. It is also reasonable… so what?

  • Ok, Max, keep your shirt on. I'm going to ignore your comment that you don't care what the law is, for if that is your true position, there certainly is no point in trying to hold a rational discussion with you. Call me optimistic.

    First, I would suggest you cause the vast majority of others to label you an extremist by saying the use of reasonable force is a violent act. The implication is that "reasonable" force is inherently "violent", which is simply a nonsense.

    Second, you use an illustration of force, punching someone out, which the vast majority would lable as an inherently violent act (unlike "reasonable force"), but one wherein the vast majority wouild suddenly agree with you that its use — in the circumstances — is reasonable. It is the circumstances that make all the difference.

    What is so evil about parental correction of a child — note, I am using the word in the Act, the word "correction", not the word punishment or vengeance, etc. — that the present Section 59 does not allow any use of force for it, no matter what the circumstances, while "reasonable force" (or violence, according to you) is justified to stop even "disruptive behaviour" or when required incidentally for "good care and parenting"?

  • I would suggest you cause the vast majority of others to label you an extremist by saying the use of reasonable force is a violent act.

    Only if they fail to understand the meaning of the term "violent." Hitting someone is by definition an act of violence. "Reasonable force" is a recognition that in some circumstances violence is a justified or even desirable response. Max just happens to disagree with parents re whether the particular "reasonable force" under discussion is genuinely reasonable – which he's entitled to do. He just needn't expect us to give a rat's ass.

  • I gave a similar comment. But it appears to have been deleted for some reason…

  • Max, I agree with you about majority will. However your response here seems
    to me flawed, the reason people support laws against things like
    prostitution or drugs etc is because they believe these things to be
    seriously immoral or harmful. In other words they accept government
    intervention when the action is sufficiently immoral or harmful to warrant
    it. In the absence of these sorts of conditions the government is not
    justified in intervening.
    My initial point was this: If parents are capable of raising children
    without hitting them (or "smacking" if you prefer that… although "I
    smacked her across the face" does not really sound much better to me… but
    anyway)… who cares whether you are allowed to hit them or not. Just use
    other methods</>
    Well the same point can be made about all sorts of things, parents are
    capable of raising children without grounding them (restricting their
    liberty) if they just use other methods.
    Similarly if the government made it illegal for me to shop at the
    supermarket across the road I could always use other methods of shopping I
    could use the one down the street. Similarly if the state made it illegal
    to wear red shirts I could use other methods of clothing I could simply buy
    different colours. But none of these facts would mean the state was
    justified in threatening me with jail, or restricting my freedom simply
    because I where a red shirt or shop at the supermarket across the road.

  • I use "hit" to indicate what is actually going on and take away the
    comforting language that makes it seem that you are doing something good….
    rather than resorting to violence because you can't out think a four year
    old.

    Putting aside the false and insulting suggestion that the only reason
    parents use corporal punishment is because they are stupid. I addressed this
    issue in a previous post. The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines violence as
    "the use of physical force so as to inflict injury on others or cause damage
    to property." If this is what is meant by violence then smacking does not
    necessarily involve violence, moreover even under the old law such actions
    were illegal. On the other hand you might be using the word violence as a
    synonym for "force" but if this is the case even confiscating property and
    grounding a child are violence because force is involved, a child does not
    for example give up their toys voluntarily nor do they go to their room
    voluntarily. Hence either your objection does not apply to corporal
    punishment or it applies to non corporal punishment as well.
    Oh well… if you believe that there will be a lot of happy child
    molesters out there. But (being charitable to you) you don't really believe
    the statement above. You simply disagree about exactly what the state may or
    may not restrict.
    I am sure that you agree with me that the state and another person can
    legitimately say that a parent can NOT sexually molest/starve/"hit a kid on
    the head with a lump of concrete"/etc/etc

    These are all practices which cause demonstrable serious harm. Mild forms of
    corporal punishment do not. Hence the reason they are criminalized does not
    apply in this context.
    So again – lets drop all this "state control" nonsense and talk about the
    real issue: why are some parents capable of raising children without
    resorting to violence – while others are not?

    I addressed the violence issue above, but I will simply note an analogous
    argument applies to grounding, one can ask why are some parents capable of
    raising children without resorting to restricting their freedom of movement.
    Or with confiscations, why are some capable of raising children without
    stealing their property. The point is any form of punishment involves doing
    something to someone which in normal circumstances would be objectionable.
    You don't get to criticize a method of punishment simply by noting it falls
    under a certain category (i.e. Hitting) which is in normal circumstances
    prohibited.
    _____

  • IWould it be worth spending mny millions to defend the right t wear a red T-shirt…. and besides the state does restrict what clothing we can wear.  We laugh at countries where women are required to cover al of their body parts – yet in our society if you go out inpublic withoout state defined parts of your body covered you will be arrested.  Do you think the state should be able to impose minimum amounts of clothing?

    And the issue with prostitution is an interesting one. You think that prostitution causes harm to society -as do I. However, some would argue that sexual freedom is benificial to a healthy society.

    It is hard to get a consensus on which issues are 'moral' ones and which are 'lifestyle issues.'  I am sure Sue Bradford would argue that 'smacking' is "seriously immoral or harmful."

    It should really be an empirical issue.  If longitudal studies showed that smacking really does have negative effects on a persons life would you then be in favour of banning this practice.  And the same question t those opposed:  If studies showed that smacked had a positive effect would you change your stance?

  • It is interesting to look at the issue as to whether corporal punishment is deserving of censure when other forms of punishment are legal. However I agree with what <span>Renton Maclachlan is saying over at:</span>

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxiYobjbeO4&feature=channel_page

    Namely, that the current law doesn't discriminate between forms of punishment imposed by parents- all forms of correction that bend the child's will to the parent's, by a look, gesture, words, by detaining them, moving them, smacking them, or any conceivable action for the purpose of correction is criminal assault by virtue of application of the s2 definition of assault in the Crimes Act.

    I think we should be arguing about the fact that the only legal right we have with regard to correcting our children's behaviour is to fantasise about doing so- to act on that fantasy in any way shape or form makes us criminals.

  • Whacking a kid takes no imagination – no thought – no reasoning.  The other methods all require rationality, patience, and self discipline.  So I think parents who can't engage their brian enough to think of alternatives to a whack or a punch ARE less intelligent.  And I know you are all screaming "but we mean a smack not a punch!  Don't confuse the two!" Sorry.. but who exactly decides when this line is crossed?  Me? You? The guy with a fist like a ham and a two year old daughter covered in bruises?

    Sorry – that was pretty offensive.  But sometimes syllogisms are less effective than a dose of reality.

  • IWould it be worth spending mny millions to defend the right t wear a red T-shirt…. Probably not, but thats a different question as to wether such laws are just.

     Moreover, the principle that the state doesn't have arbitrary power over its citizens might be worth spending millions defending.

    and besides the state does restrict what clothing we can wear.  We laugh at countries where women are required to cover al of their body parts – yet in our society if you go out inpublic withoout state defined parts of your body covered you will be arrested.  Do you think the state should be able to impose minimum amounts of clothing? I agree, but I did not say the state could not impose minimal standards on clothing I said they could not prohibit people from wearing a shirt purely because its red. Laws about public nudity etc are based on the idea that certain practises are immoral, so again the issue is wether corporal punishment is immoral not wether their are alternatives to it.  

    It should really be an empirical issue.  If longitudal studies showed that smacking really does have negative effects on a persons life would you then be in favour of banning this practice.  And the same question t those opposed:  If studies showed that smacked had a positive effect would you change your stance? The problem is that empirical data alone can't answer moral questions, suppose you can show that corporal punishment has certain effects, first one can't say they are negative or positive without making a value judgement of some sort. second, you can't infer what you ought to do unless you assume some principle such as "do not do anything with negative consquences" . Third there are also issues about what you mean by "negative consquences" permitting people to drive cars has negative consquences for example yet its not unjust to do so.

    I will say this: If it could be shown that administering corporal punishment caused demonstrable harm on par with other abusive practises, then I think that would provide a good case against corporal punishment

  • Whacking a kid takes no imagination – no thought – no reasoning.  The other methods all require rationality, patience, and self discipline

    Saying, "Johny do as I say or go to your room" or "if you hit your sister with that toy I will confiscate it for the rest of the day" don't involving reasoning either.

    Sorry.. but who exactly decides when this line is crossed?  Me? You? The guy with a fist like a ham and a two year old daughter covered in bruises

    Actually courts make decisions like this all the time, a person is allowed to use "reasonable force" is self defence. One can ask "who is to decide whats reasonable?, you me, the guy who bashes a guy with a baseball bat because his neighbour spat at him?" etc, but such questions do not alter the fact that laws drawing such lines are just.

  • Then case closed.

  • " a person is allowed to use "reasonable force" is self defence."….

    ie. very rarely and in exceptional circumstnces…. I won't bother to spell out why this is important.  Think about it.

  • Awesome article, great discussion.  Thanks, you've given me many bullet point arguments to use.

  • For those who are anti-smacking.

    Do you have examples of a court cases where parent abuse their child, use smacking as defence in court, and got away with no charges? Are there examples of court cases where the new smacking law would have given different results?

  • There are very few reported cases where one can even begin to argue that someone who in fact abused their child got away with it using reasonable force as a defence.

    The best places to search these cases out are the Brookers and LexisNexis NZ databases which of course are not publicly available – you have to subscribe to get access. I have access by virtue of being a law student and I have searched these databases and I can only find 34 reported cases where s59 was raised as a defence and of these very few raised it successfully and of these it is hard to find many that are dubious decisions – 1 or 2 of the older cases – like back in the 50's and 60's maybe.

    The majority appear to have been decided correctly – people attempted to raise the defence and the court said "yeah right" and convicted them for child abuse or else it found that it was not proven who abused the child – the evidence was weak – or it found that in fact the force used was reasonable (and it was).

    I did offer above and directly to the Vote No people, to create a page a table showing how many s59 cases there have ever been reported in NZ, the verdicts in each and a link to the pdf of each reported case. No one bit so I didn't do it. Now semester break is over and the vote officially begins tomorrow I'm not sure I have time – if someone wanted to help me maybe… Andy?

  • Well punching out a man with a gun who is about to shoot someone is clearly violent. It is also reasonable… so what?

    So you think punching a child was considered to be reasonable force before the anti-smacking law?