If I smack my child am I a bad parent or a criminal?

by Amelia Trotman on June 26, 2016

Amelia Trotman

If I smack my child am I a bad parent or a criminal?

In recent years the debate over whether ‘smacking’ is an acceptable or reasonable form of punishment has become a controversial topic.

In New Zealand, laws were amended in 2007 which make it illegal for parents to use force against a child for the purpose of correction, even if the force is “reasonable”. In Australia, while we haven’t gone so far as criminalising the practice of smacking children, there is great public support for such a change.

On 21 March 2016, the South Australian Supreme Court overturned the aggravated assault conviction of an Air Force pilot for smacking his 12 year old son. The judge commented that while the slaps the father delivered to his son’s thigh left some redness, they were not unreasonable and for the purpose of correcting misbehaviour. The Judge went on to say that “the suffering of some temporary pain and discomfort by the child will not transform a parent attempting to correct a child into a person committing a criminal offence,”. “Indeed, the very suffering of temporary emotion may be calculated to impress the child and correct the behaviour, just as much as the accompanying physical discomfort.” “Some level of pain is permissible, and in the present case there was little … the mere existence of red marks caused by the punishment does not prove unreasonable correction.”

While the Judge’s comments may be viewed by many as controversial, in my view they bring some grounding to a debate that has gone beyond the realms of reasonableness. I remember being smacked as a child, quite vividly, and it certainly did me no harm. I knew how to behave and I also knew that if I chose not to behave appropriately I would be punished with a smack (often with a belt or a wooden spoon which would certainly be frowned upon now!).

Obviously there needs to be a clear distinction between reasonable smacking and physical abuse and I am certainly not condoning the latter. Caution should certainly be exercised in matters involving allegations of domestic and family violence and in such cases it may be necessary to seek orders restraining parents from physically disciplining children. Such Orders are not uncommon and many Judges in the family law courts openly express the view that physical discipline is neither appropriate nor tolerated.

If you have any concerns about your children being physically disciplined, contact one of our Family Law team for advice.

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