Corporal punishment of children as a discipline technique has long been a source of debate. What starts as discipline, though, too often becomes abuse.
Conservative estimates indicate that almost 2,000 infants and young children die from abuse or neglect by parents or caretakers each year, or 5 children every day. More must be done to protect the smallest citizens of the State.
Corporal punishment in the schools has been illegal since 1986 (Education Code Section 49000). It is also expressly prohibited in day care centers, group homes, and foster care.
Existing law, Penal Code Section 273a, makes it a crime for any person, under specified circumstances, to willfully cause or permit a child to suffer, or inflict on a child unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.
The vagueness of the “unjustifiable” standard leads to inconsistent results. Cases of discipline serious enough to injure a child and warrant prosecution may go unpunished if the defendant raises the affirmative defense of “reasonable corporal punishment.” Nor does current law explicitly ban baby-shaking, which can result in grave injury to infants.
The legislation amends California Penal Code Section 273a.
It begins with a statement of legislative findings. Children under the age of three are disproportionately the victims, sometimes fatal, of child abuse and the least able to protect themselves from it. Therefore, the integrity and sanctity of their bodies should be afforded the greatest possible protection under the law.
The bill creates a rebuttable presumption that certain specified types of discipline are to be considered unjustifiable per se:
1) The use of an implementation, including, but not limited to a stick, a rod, a switch, an electrical cord, an extension cord, a belt, a broom, or a shoe.These provisions allow prosecutors to charge baby-shaking as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The bill also expands the sentencing discretion of courts by adding non-violent parenting education classes as an option for those convicted under the statute.
* Introduced 2/22/2007
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