August 13, 2009
How does our referendum on smacking look to the world? Not good. Journalist Lotta Hördin wrote this editorial for independent newspaper Helsingborgs Dagblad the fifth largest morning paper in Sweden on New Zealand’s “tragic referendum”.
It’s never right to hit children (8th August, 2009 – Helsingborgs Dagblad)
Tragic referendum in New Zealand
Raising children using violence should definitely be a thing of the past. Unfortunately this is not the case. This is illustrated by the current referendum in New Zealand. Sweden was the first in the world to illegalize hitting children in 1979. Here (in Sweden) how could anyone think about changing this law? But in New Zealand, who introduced the law in 2007, an organization called Family First gathered enough signatures to force the politicians to carry out a referendum. The referendum is now underway.
The current opinion polls show that the majority of New Zealanders think a little “smacking” should be allowed. Indicating they want to remove the current law.
It was not easy when the law was introduced here (in Sweden). In the 1920’s a law called “Husaga” allowed the master of the house to hit his wife, children and servants. Up until 1958 teachers were allowed to hit students. But in the 1960’s public opinion turned and laid the foundations for the current law.
Since then 23 countries have created a similar law including our Nordic neighbors, and many other European countries. However, in the UK you are still allowed to smack your child and even in USA it is allowed in the home. In some states it is also allowed in the schools.
A law against smacking children doesn’t mean that all the violence stops. That’s illustrated in the statistics. Children get smacked and abused even in Sweden. You need more than a law to change bad behaviour, but from society’s side prohibition is an important signal. It also provides an opportunity to hold the offender accountable to the law. The increase in the reports of child abuse we have seen (in Sweden) can relate to fact that the tolerance levels have been lowered and in some way this is thanks to the law.
Children are vulnerable and defenseless to adults, therefore it is important that there are laws to protect them when people in their close environment fail. In New Zealand the opposition to the law argues that parents that give their children a smack on the bum are criminals. But where do you draw the line?
Well of course you draw the line that all violence is illegal otherwise you’re skating on thin ice. Raising children should, above all, be built on good communication and mutual respect. That is not to say that the adult surrenders and lets the child take over and decide everything. But violence large or small should be forbidden. The referendum in New Zealand is to illustrate public opinion on the issue. Leading politicians are planning not to vote and a NO to the law will be a hot potato to handle, but it shouldn’t be. The only right thing, of course, is that New Zealand in the future has a law against smacking children.