About the Author

Avatar photo

Ruby Harrold-Claesson

Smacking: Those Kiwis must be crazy!

Print Friendly and PDF
Posted on

One year ago, I travelled 36 hours from Gothenburg, Sweden to Auckland at the invitation of the Section 59 Coalition. I came to testify at the Parliamentary hearing on the private member’s Bill that proposed a repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act and to inform – and to warn – the general New Zealand public of the effects of the Swedish smacking ban.

When I left New Zealand after my two-week stay, I was hopeful that the bill would not pass because over 80 % of the population was not in favour of it. I had also thought that New Zealand was a democratic country that respected the will of the people. My warnings were backed by my presentation of 30 of the court cases that I have collected for my coming PhD thesis on the Swedish anti-smacking law. These show how parents were prosecuted and sentenced to fines or prison and their children were taken into forcible public care and separated from them and placed in foster homes. But it all fell on deaf parliamentarian ears. My hopes were finally crumbled in May when the compromise was reached and the bill became law because the MPs were forced to vote against their consciences. Fortunately, a few MPs with high integrity refused to vote for the law: one even resigned from his Party because of it.

New Zealand has made a historical mistake by following Sweden’s example to ban smacking. New Zealand’s law has gone even farther than Sweden’s in that it prescribes criminal penalties for smacking parents1 and the Children’s Commissioner cheered – just like the crowds did at the Emperor’s new clothes. The Swedish law doesn’t prescribe criminal penalties, but Parliament was informed that the new law would be sanctioned by the provisions of the Penal Law. And so it has been.

Section 59 was good legislation and as such it should not have been tampered with in any way. Sue Bradford sent three strong messages:

1 – She knows best – better than the legally educated judges on whose discretion it lies to decide what is reasonable force

2 – She does not trust the judgement of the courts;

3 – She thinks previous rulings were wrong.

Remember, the anti-smacking law was not delivered to mankind on slabs of stone as one of the Ten Commandments. It was imposed by the Swedish social engineers. So, the fact that Sweden repealed its equivalent to Section 59 does not justify New Zealand repealing its own. In a TV-debate on July 19, 2006, Sue Bradford said that it was irrelevant to discuss Sweden. However, it is quite obvious that no one can discuss imposing a smacking-ban on a country without taking Sweden – the pioneer – into account. Also, the British Parliament engaged in similar legislative procedure in 2004. It resulted in the Lester amendment, which is called the fudge.2 The Lester amendment is deemed as a progression towards a total smacking ban. However, England is facing a re-think. In an article in The People, July 8, 2007, Tory children’s minister Tim Loughton said: The present law is unworkable nonsense – it just criminalises parents. We need to clearly define the line between chastisement by parents as they see fit and violence towards children.

While the Swedish parliament may have been in good faith in repealing their equivalent to Section 59 and consequently passing the anti-smacking law despite the warnings of important judicial organs, the NZ parliament cannot be deemed to have acted in good faith. Both Dr Bob Larzelere and I informed them of the disastrous consequences that the Swedish anti-smacking law has had for children, families and the society as a whole.

The NZ anti-smacking lobby claims that repealing Section 59 will stop child abuse. They also claim that Swedish children are safer and that only one child every four years dies from abuse in Sweden. These claims have been proven mendacious so, imposing a smacking ban with reference to Sweden’s low mortality rates shows that they have failed to note that homicide rates indicate only the extreme cases of child abuse. How often does one hear of ‘death by a smack’? Homicide rates are not the same as rates of supposed harm by smacking. And, the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act will not change the situation for children who are subject to abuse.

Not even the blanket prohibition against smacking that was passed in 1979 has prevented child abuse in Sweden. In fact, assistant professor Hans Temrin at the University of Stockholm has shown in two separate press releases, the latter of which was published in May 2006, that 258 children in Sweden died at the hands of their parents or guardians between 1965 – 1999.3 Incidentally, those figures do not include children who have died while in state care, for e.g. Daniel Sigström (1992) or Felicia Pettersson (2005). A little reminder: in Sweden, in January – February 2006 three children under the age of ten died at the hands of their parents and in May a 12 yr-old girl was murdered by her step-father.

You may wonder what the reason is for my involvement in the New Zealand smacking debate. Well, Sweden was the first country to ban smacking so it is cited as the model to follow. In my capacity as a lawyer in Sweden, researcher on the Swedish anti-smacking law (PhD) and president of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights (NCHR) for the Protection of Family Rights in the Nordic countries4, I have close-up experiences of the that law. I find that Sweden is the model to avoid – at all costs.

Parenting vs child abuse

Here’s why: 1 – society accepts that parenting, by definition, embraces a corrective role. Sweden, that prides itself in being the first country in the world to abolish physical punishment – smacking – of children, removed the plea of reasonable force in 1957. Sweden has thereafter taken further steps to protect children from abuse and in 1979 the Anti-smacking law, which was promulgated in the Parent and guardianship Code, came into force. Smacking was equated to child abuse. Several state organs that gave opinions warned against the law. They invoked the indoctrination to violence that children meet in films and in the media and also the administrative violence that children and their parents would be subjected to because of the totalitarian nature of the law.

Despite the fact that Parliament had been informed that the law would be sanctioned by the provisions of the Criminal Code, the information given in the English summary promised that no parents would be prosecuted because of the law. This was reiterated in similar words to the international audience in Paris when the law was presented to the world stating that the law does not represent an extension of the punishable area. However, the first prosecution for minor incidents occurred already in 1978 – prior to the passing of the law. Swedish statistics published in February 2007 show that there has been a 14% increase in child abuse5 despite the smacking ban, with 11 000 reports of child abuse per year in Sweden. There are claims that only ten percent are prosecuted.6 Yet, the Swedish and New Zealand lobbies and their experts and statisticians claim that the Swedish smacking ban is extremely successful, and that polls show that only a minor percent of Swedish parents smack their children.

With 11 000 reports of child abuse per year and only ten percent being prosecuted there seemed to be a need for more stringent laws to guarantee the success of the Swedish smacking ban. So, in 1998 – 2000 the law gross disturbance of the peace – which initially was drafted to protect battered women – came to include child smacking. Since then parents are being prosecuted for gross disturbance of the peace and their children are taken into compulsory care. The difference between being prosecuted for child abuse and gross disturbance of the peace is that in the former one had to present times and dates, but in the latter the charges do not have to be substantiated.

Smacking = child abuse?

2 – In my capacity as legal practitioner in Sweden7, researcher and president of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights (NCHR) for the Protection of Family Rights in the Nordic countries, I have seen the effects of the anti-smacking law on children and their families. Because of my first-hand knowledge of the Swedish system, I was approached by two persons from separate parts of NZ who had found the NCHR’s web site and I have now been engaged in the Section 59 debate for the past two years. I made both a written and an oral submission to the Section 59 Select Committee. My oral submission was accompanied by 32 case summaries in English and 30 photocopies of verdicts, summary judgements and newspaper or other articles in Swedish.

Discipline in Sweden has become a word that is despised and equated with child abuse. It is a very extremist view and one that should be examined carefully. In his book Basic theory of Psychoanalysis8 Robert Waelder wrote the following:

… a psychoanalytic approach to upbringing does not mean that children should get what they desire when they desire something; instead it demands an attempt to find a suitable balance between satisfaction and disappointment in every situation … we have to find the optimal combination of two equally important but partly opposite ingredients for a healthy development, namely, love and discipline; to love without spoiling and to discipline without injuring.

In his paper Combining Love and Limits in Authoritative Parenting: A Conditional Sequence Model of Disciplinary Responses9 published in 2001, Dr. Bob Larzelere finds that several research programs have shown that optimal parenting combines love and limits – not pitting both ingredients against each other. UN and Unicef Directives

In May 2006, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who is married to a Swedish woman, thus his interest to promote the Swedish agenda, issued directives that every country in the world should impose anti-smacking laws. Kofi Annan, also known for his non-intervention in the Rwandan massacre, has completely ignored the gross injustices being perpetrated because of the Swedish anti-smacking law; that thousands of families have been – and are being – destroyed by unnecessary state interventions and that parents are afraid to correct their children.10 To implement his directives, Kofi Annan appointed the Portuguese professor, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, to lobby all governments in the world to offer children the same protection under the law that adults have. This is a most interesting phrase, because UNCROC in its preamble stipulates for the protection of children as follows: the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth. Sweden fails grossly to meet up to that requirement for ca 30 000 unborn children per year. The New Zealand figures are 18 000.

The ideological child protection advocates claim that they are acting in the child’s best interest when they call for a total ban on smacking and heavy penalties for smacking parents. However, they fail to realise that they are the very ones who are exposing children to severe abuse. Normally, the vast majority of parents talk to their children and try to make them comply. A smack is usually administered when words and admonition have failed to have the desired effect. So, if a child is smacked for something that he/she did or failed to do, subjecting the parents to police investigations and subsequent social investigations and separating the child from its parents will be double punishment for the child. This will not only expose the child to severe trauma but also damage the child’s relations to its parents – maybe permanently. So, those Kiwis (MPs) must be crazy!

Ruby Harrold-Claesson, Lawyer, President of the NCHR/NKMR.

  1. Larzelere’s parting comments http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0705/S00223.htm
  2. Was the Lester amendment really necessary? By Kay Ma. Dissertation 2005.
  3. Hans Temrin Styvföräldrar misshandlar oftare barn till döds, DN May 12, 2006 
  4. Kathryn Rich claimed that I am a fruit loop. See Prof Jacob Sundberg’s letter to Kathryn Rich http://familyintegrity.blogspot.com/2007/05/letter-to-kathryn-rich-from-jacob-wf.html and his letter to Deborah Coddington, http://www.nkmr.org/english/coddington_letter.htm 
  5. 14% Increase in Child Abuse despite Swedish Smacking Ban, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0702/S00378.htm 
  6. Anti-smack campaign fails to pack a punch quotation, Christian Diesen. Note in the article that Diesen wants more parents to be prosecuted. 
  7. I am not a member of the Swedish Bar Association, a fact that Sue Bradford and her child protection lobby, unknowledgeable of the Swedish system, tried to make a big affair of in their attempts to discredit me because of my criticism of the Swedish anti-smacking law. Cf Note 4 supra. 
  8. Waelder, R IUP, New York, 1964 
  9. http://parenthood.library.wisc.edu/Larzelere/Larzelere.html 
  10. European Report: Mummy and Daddy spare rod – or go to court http://www.corpun.com/eud00002.htm