24 Aug 2009

New measures to reassure parents over smacking

10:33 pm on 24 August 2009

Prime Minister John Key has announced measures aimed at reassuring parents they will not be criminalised for lightly smacking their children.

In a smacking referendum, almost 88% of those who voted said a smack as part of good parental correction should not be a criminal offence.

Mr Key says the Police and the Ministry of Social Development will lead a review of relevant policies and procedures.

It will include the referral process between police and Child, Youth and Family to identify any changes needed to ensure good parents are treated as Parliament intended.

Though he has repeatedly ruled out changing the law, Mr Key says police have been invited to report on a six-monthly or annual basis for the next three years on its operation.

The delivery of a report of data and trends and the effect of the law change will be brought forward to late September or early October.

Mr Key says the Cabinet has agreed that if future police data indicates a worrying tend, the law will be changed.

Kiwi Party leader Larry Baldock, who initiated the referendum, told Checkpoint it is outrageous that Mr Key can ignore 88% of the population.

"What the Prime Minister is afraid of is this very small minority of people - 11 percent - who have strong opinions about parents using any form of reasonable force to correct their children.

"He's bowing to their wishes instead of responding to the vast majority of New Zealanders who have said very clearly they don't want a smack to be a criminal offence."

Police don't expect changes

Deputy Police Commissioner Rob Pope says he does not expect the authorities' approach to complaints of smacking to change.

Mr Pope told Checkpoint he does not envisage the review prompting any changes to what is already happening.

"It's just another overlay, if you like, to work we've already undertaken and if that provides further reassurance to the public about the way that police are applying their discretion and their assessment of these cases, then that must be for the good."

Mr Pope says police have been exercising discretion over reports of light or remedial smacking since the law changed two years ago.

Referendum results

The $9 million referendum question asked: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Preliminary results of the referendum, released on Friday night, show 1,420,959 voters (87.6%) said "No", while 191,495 (11.81%) answered "Yes" to the referendum question.

The referendum was organised by opponents of a change to Section 59 of the Crimes Act that prevents parents from using force against their children for the purposes of correction.

It allows a defence of reasonable force used in order to prevent harm to a child.