Kiwi Caritas backs spanking compromise

Caritas New Zealand has come out in support of a "third way" amendment to a controversial parliamentary bill on physical punishment of children that seeks to outlaw most cases of spanking.

Scoop reports that Caritas CEO Michael Smith said the agency was satisfied that the compromise found through cross-party discussion and negotiation met concerns raised by their submission to Parliament.

"While the media coverage has focused on polarised positions in the debate, Caritas has been among those seeking common ground which both provided more protection for children, and greater clarification for parents," Mr Smith said.

"In our submission, we favoured an amendment to define unreasonable force, but feel that the wording concerning 'inconsequential' offending is satisfactory."

According to The Age, the bill overturns a clause in the country's Crimes Act that allows parents to use "reasonable force" to discipline their children.

The bill was drafted after some parents successfully defended child assault charges - some involving the use of whips and cords - by claiming reasonable force in the name of discipline.

Caritas and the Church have received some criticism about "fence sitting" on the issue, but Michael Smith said the outcome shows that there was always a third way possible through a debate dominated by two positions.

Catholic social teaching recognises the human dignity of children, and the need to provide special protection for children as among society's most vulnerable members.

It also recognises the subsidiarity of families, which says that governments should not interfere unnecessarily with decisions that families are able to make for themselves, unless the children's safety is at risk.

"In the context of New Zealand's high rates of violence against children, we did not believe the legal status quo adequately protected children, and we were not satisfied that decisions about the threshold for prosecution should be left entirely to police discretion," Mr Smith said.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference recent statement on the so-called "Section 59" debate reached a similar position, asking families, communities, and politicians to consider how both the safety of children and family subsidiarity could be protected and valued.

Caritas Support For Section 59 Amendment (Scoop, 3/5/07)
NZ anti-smacking bill likely to pass (The Age, 2/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand
New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference
Catholic Communications (New Zealand)

No substitute for smacking, Fiji archbishop says (CathNews, 13/9/06)
New Zealand bishops highlight shame of corporal punishment (CathNews, 14/10/03)

4 May 2007

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