Wednesday, 8 October 2008

SMACK!

Today, the House of Commons will debate an amendment to the Children's Act which will, if passed, outlaw the smacking of children by parents.

Now, let's leave aside the debate around the rights and wrongs of smacking which is so emotive that there can be no definitive answer and let us ask instead - Is this law workable?

I mean, honestly, are we going to end up in the future with a situation where a child reports his parents to the police for smacking him after he'd done something he shouldn't? Is this really the way for a civilised country to behave? For the state to interfere in such a way?

We already have parenting 'guidelines' which advise against smacking, and surly that should be enough. But no. We are now in a situation where, potentially, when I smack the back of my son's hand as he's about to put his hand in the fire (cause let's be honest, is there any other way to stop a 3 year old from putting his hand in the fire) to stop him from burning himself, I could possibly be prosecuted? Maybe even be sent to jail? Is that right?

Okay, so that's an extreme example, and I'm sure this 'law' is supposed to stop the heavy handed smacking of children by way of punishment, and not the short sharp, 'NO!' in the example above, but you just know that some finicky official somewhere in the country will stretch the law that little bit too far.

And what about the eleven year old who's parent's won't let him have that new Gameboy and so tells the police that Daddy smacked him. Will Daddy have to prove his innocence? Or will (as is supposed to happen) the authorities have to prove the smacking took place. I suspect this will be an example where 'innocent until proven guilty' will be forgotten and replaced with 'guilty until proven innocent'. Suddenly, are all parents going to be view with suspicion? Viewed as criminals until they prove they are not? If it's the child's word against the parent's, who do you believe?

Regardless on your views of smacking as a way of disciplining children, one has to concede that this is a bad law. It is an unworkable and an unenforceable law. At least, it is unenforceable without infringing on the fundamental rights that all of us are supposed to enjoy in this country. It is also unneeded, as I believe the laws to punish the systematic beating of children are already in place.

I hope that our lawmakers will see sense and reject his idea.

But I doubt they will.

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