New Zealanders rally to block ‘anti-smacking’ bill

By Ray Lilley WELLINGTON, New Zealand, AP

Children joined their parents in marching on New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday demanding lawmakers throw out a bill critics say is trying to outlaw smacking.

About 500 people, including parents pushing babies in buggies and older children, carried banners reading: “Don’t mess with the family” and “Kids don’t belong to the state” as they rallied in the largest of several protests against the bill in recent days. One girl waved a sign that said “You are not my mum and dad.”

Parents, some church and political groups are trying to derail a plan to repeal a section of New Zealand’s Crimes Act that allows parents to use “reasonable force” to discipline their children.

Supporters of the amendment say the current law has been used to secure acquittals for parents accused of beating their children with everything from lumps of lumber to electrical cables and riding crops. Opponents say no one supports child abuse, but that the changes intrude too far into people’s homes.

As the protest group sang the national anthem in front of Parliament, about 50 counter protesters chanted “2,4,6,8 _ teach your children not to hate.”

Police stood ready to separate the two sides, but there was no trouble.

Protest organizer Lindsay Perigo told the crowd the changes were backed by a small minority only.

“The nanny state has well and truly overstepped the mark,” he said, as the crowd waved banners reading: “A smack is not a beating,” “Let parents be parents” and “Down with Nanny state.”

“Just because you oppose the bill doesn’t mean you support smacking,” Perigo told The Associated Press. “But you support the parents’ right to make the decision.”

Lawmakers debated another stage of the so-called anti-smacking bill’s passage toward law on Wednesday, and voted to allow debate to continue next month.

According to its promoter, Green Party lawmaker Sue Bradford, the change does not outlaw smacking.

“My bill does not create an offense when parents smack a child,” she said. “That has been a technical assault for over 100 years.”

Instead, the bill aims to prevent alleged abusers from using the “reasonable force” argument as a defense, she said.

“It is one small step toward trying to reduce the level of violence against kids in this country,” she told lawmakers.

But National Party lawmaker Chester Borrows, an opponent of the bill, said “nobody on either side of this debate believes it will save one life.”