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Domestic CP - October 1998


The Australian, Sydney, 13 October 1998

Spare the rod ... or serve the time

PARENTS who smack their children with a belt, stick or wooden spoon could be jailed for criminal assault under national law reforms to be considered by the nation's attorneys-general.

A committee of top legal advisers, chaired by NSW District Court Judge Rod Howie, has told the States and Territories that smacking with an "open hand" should be the only acceptable form of physical discipline for children.

The law should prevent parents from using a "stick, belt or other object" to punish a child, its report says.

The report also recommends parents be liable for criminal prosecution if they "cause or threaten to cause harm to a child that lasts for more than a short period".

"This is an emotional issue over which there are keenly felt opposing positions," the report says.

"The committee is of the opinion that at the present it goes too far to criminalise a corrective smacking by a parent or guardian, so long as the force used is reasonable.

"Conduct can amount to reasonable correction only if it is reasonable in the circumstances for the purposes of the discipline, management or control of the child."

The report proposes that Australia's laws be changed to a Scottish model, stating that it is unreasonable to "cause harm to a child by use of a stick, belt or other object (other than an open hand)".

Such an offence would carry a maximum jail term of seven to 25 years, depending on the severity of harm.

The common law at present gives parents the right to "reasonable chastisement" of their children.

But the proposed changes stipulate for the first time that the use of belts or sticks is unreasonable.

"This at least gives the community some sort of guidance as to what is regarded as 'reasonable', the committee's senior criminal law reform adviser, Geoff McDonald, said yesterday.

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Colin Farrell