The boy on the beach

A family of four wandered on to the beach and settled down near us.

The parents were very attentive, swimming with the two young children, playing with them in the sand and watching them play by themselves. They frequently admired what the children were doing and chatted with them.

Every now and then the wee boy, who was about three, would do something to annoy his younger sister. His parents reprimanded him, quietly and calmly. He continued to annoy her, the reprimand, still calm and quiet became sterner. He snatched his sister’s toy. His mother picked him up, took the toy from him, set him down at a distance from his sister, told him to stay there and play by himself. She also warned that if he annoyed his sister one more time he’d be smacked.

A few minutes later, he ran up to his sister, pushed her over and took another toy.

The mother smacked his hand, lightly. His lip quivered, he looked her in the eye, sniffed, took a deep breath, sat down and began playing happily again.

Smacking in general is not a good thing to do, there may have been a better alternative to it in this particular case, but should what the mother did be against the law?

This took place in Fiji where it isn’t. Had it happened here the mother would probably not have been arrested and charged for breaking the Crimes (Substitution Section 59) Amendment Act, but she had broken the law.

The memory of this scene is one of the reasons I voted no in the referendum.

It doesn’t mean I condone smacking. It doesn’t mean I think it’s a good way to discipline children.

It just means I know that parenting is an imperfect art, even the best parents don’t get it right all the time, and when they get it wrong in a way that does not physically or emotionally harm a child, they should not risk criminalisation.

It doesn’t matter that no-one has been charged for a trivial smack like the one given to the boy on the beach. It doesn’t matter that no-one has got away with using much more force if it was reasonable in the circumstances and for the purposes of prevention, which the law permits.

A law which allows an action for one reason but disallows a similar, or maybe even lesser, one for another is bad law. A law which means parents risk being criminalised for a trivial action is bad law. A bad law shouldn’t be tweaked when it needs to be changed.

This is a bad law and one bad law undermines all the other good ones.

Apropos of this:

Keeping Stock has written a very good memo to John.

Kiwiblog looks at Key’s response (to the referendum not Keeping Stock’s memo).

Dim Post leaks some changes to  smacking law.

Chris Trotter writes on the Deafening Echo at Bowalley Road.

Karl du Fresne posts on Losing 40 – nil and blaming the ref.

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