August 6, 2009 / 6:57 AM / 10 years ago

New Zealand votes on law against child smacking

WELLINGTON (Reuters Life!) - “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

That’s the question a New Zealand referendum on anti-smacking laws is asking people as the country debates a controversial 2007 law that made smacking children a criminal offence.

The postal referendum has sparked heated debate in New Zealand, with some saying it is a waste of time because the results are not binding on the government.

The law was introduced to combat maltreatment, but sparked protest from those who saw it as the state dictating how they should raise their children.

Domestic violence is a major issue in New Zealand, which has the third-highest rate of child deaths caused by maltreatment in the OECD.

“It’s a waste of money. The question is so stupid they’ll get a lot of red herrings and a lot of people won’t vote,” said Stephanie Phillips, a mother of three from Wellington.

“The referendum question is ridiculous. It’s quite confusing. You kind of have to answer the opposite to what you believe.”

Prime Minister John Key has said the government does not plan to change the law, whatever the result. Key said the law would only be changed if there was evidence showing it did not work.

A survey conducted by Research New Zealand found three of four New Zealanders did not want the referendum, which is costing taxpayers NZ$9 million ($6 million) at a time the country is deep in recession.

The referendum, which runs until August 21, was initiated because a petition was signed by more than 10 percent of eligible voters calling for the issue to be put to the public.

Christian lobby group Family First, which has led opposition to the law, collected over 300,000 signatures for the petition.

Director Bob McCoskrie said the criminalization of smacking punished good parenting.

“The law is a complete and utter waste of time as it fails to catch actual child abuse, wastes police resources and time, and targets non-abusive parents,” McCoskrie said.

Support for the legislation is led by the Vote Yes Coalition made up of social welfare organizations such as Barnardos, campaigning under the slogan, “If it’s wrong to hit an adult, how can it be right to hit a child?”

Additional reporting by Michael Dickison; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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