| Protesters opposed to the anti-smacking bill march to the New Zealand parliament in Wellington on Wednesday. (AP)
Wellington, May 16 (Reuters): New Zealand effectively outlawed smacking children today by removing a statutory defence for parents.
A private bill sponsored by a Green Party lawmaker which removed an existing legal defence of “reasonable force” to correct a child was passed by an overwhelming majority.
“It is about our children and what I believe is their God-given right to grow up secure in the love of their family, valued as equal citizens to the rest of us and without the constant threat of legalised violence being used against them,” the law’s sponsor, Sue Bradford of the Green Party, said in parliament.
The law change, first proposed in 2005, had been strongly opposed by conservative family and church groups, who said it would make criminals of parents.
Opponents held public marches and rallies outside parliament.
Mainstream church groups and child welfare organisations had strongly supported the change. A late compromise adopted by lawmakers gave police the discretion not to prosecute parents if a smacking incident is considered minor.
Under the previous law, smacking children was classified as an assault, but parents could claim a statutory defence of using reasonable force to correct bad behaviour or remove the child from danger.
Members of parliament were free to vote on the issue according to their conscience, but there was near unanimous support for the change, which passed 113 to 7 in the 121 seat parliament. Loud applause broke out from the public galleries after the vote.
The leader of the Centre-Right New Zealand First Party, Winston Peters, voted against the law change.
“The problem with the bill is that while it will allow light smacking, it will do so under circumstances almost impossible to interpret,” Peters said.
The bill only needs the official assent of the Governor General, the representative of the head of state, to become law.