New Zealand bishops demand balance in polarized ‘spanking’ debate


The Catholic bishops of New Zealand are calling on government to support and help parents make the best possible decisions for the upbringing of their children.

Last week, the Catholic bishops issued a statement about the need to protect children against violence. They were critical of the legal status quo where parents have been able to defend violence against children as ‘reasonable force’ under the Crimes Act, which has not given adequate protection to children.

At the same time, they wrote that government should respect and not interfere unnecessarily with decisions that families are able to make for themselves, unless a child’s safety is at risk. They do not see minor and infrequent acts of physical punishment, such as spanking, as putting a child’s safety at risk.

They believe that the extremely polarized positions dominating the public debate, endorsing either violence against children in the name of discipline, or seeking the elimination of minor or intermittent acts of physical restraint of children by their parents, are unhelpful.

Caritas, the Catholic Church agency for justice, peace and development, called for more clarity and definition about the threshold for police prosecution of parents using physical punishment.

While recognizing that there are better means of discipline than physical punishment, Caritas does not believe that parents should be prosecuted for minor or intermittent acts of physical punishment of children. If this is the government’s intention, Caritas said, the law should say so.

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