Wednesday, 16 May 2007

NZ passes anti-smacking law

New Zealand's anti-smacking Bill will become law within weeks after winning overwhelming support in Parliament.

The country joins only a handful of European nations to legislate against the use of unreasonable force in disciplining children.

The parliamentary vote is the culmination of a two-year campaign by Greens Party MP Sue Bradford, who argued New Zealand's appalling record of violence towards children demanded drastic action.

"Every day, there are dreadful injuries inflicted on children," she said.

"People need to realise this is what happens in the name of child discipline."

Under the new law, police will have the discretion to decide what constitutes acceptable discipline and what is assault.

The law change had been strongly opposed by conservative family and church groups, who said it would make criminals of parents.

Opponents held public marches and rallies outside Parliament.

Mainstream church groups and child welfare organisations had strongly supported the change.

Politicians adopted a late compromise that gave police the discretion not to prosecute parents if a smacking incident was considered minor.

Under the previous law, smacking children was classified as an assault but parents could claim a statutory defence of using reasonable force to correct bad behaviour or remove the child from danger.

Members of Parliament were free to vote on the issue according to their conscience but there was near unanimous support for the change, which passed 113 to 7 in the 121-seat Parliament.

Loud applause broke out from the public galleries after the vote.

The Bill only needs the official assent of New Zealand's Governor-General to become law.

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