(Australia) Tassie may outlaw smacking children
By MARTINE HALEY, Chief Political Reporter
The Mercury, November 6, 2002

SMACKING a child may soon be made illegal in Tasmania. Under current laws, parents may use force to punish their children so long as it is "reasonable in the circumstances".

But the Law Reform Institute, in a paper on corporal punishment, has called for the law to be reformed because of its vagueness and concerns that it fails to protect children from excessive physical punishment.

If smacking is prohibited, Tasmania will be the first state to ban parents from physically punishing their children.

Liberal justice spokesman Michael Hodgman called on the Government to reveal whether banning smacking was "another key element of its radical social agenda".

"Beatings and physical abuse of children are totally repugnant and offenders should face the full force of the law," Mr Hodgman said.

"But parents deserve the right to choose how to discipline their children, providing it is reasonable in the circumstances."

Attorney-General Judy Jackson said the paper highlighted the need for a clear and consistent definition of what was reasonable.

Ms Jackson would not say whether the Government would support a smacking ban.

The Law Reform Institute said because of the lack of clarity in current legislation, laws were not working effectively to protect children or guide parents.

The institute has put forward two options for public debate:

  1. The banning of physical punishment.
  2. Clarifying the law to define what is reasonable and unreasonable punishment.
  3. Because of the vagueness of the law, the institute said prosecutions were difficult, even in the case of serious child abuse.
In the past decade there have only been four convictions against parents for excessively punishing their children.

In a 1992 case, four children were subjected to a range of punishments for smoking, bed-wetting, failing to feed a dog and other perceived transgressions.

The punishment included:

  1. Forcing a child to smoke a cigar and then eat the butt.
  2. A cattle-prodder was used to sting the children on the tongue and bottom.
  3. A child was tied in a shed with a dog chain and hit with a shearing belt.
  4. Putting pepper on food as a disciplinary measure.
  5. Children's Commissioner Patmalar Ambikapathy said best practice in parenting demanded alternatives to physical punishment.
The public has until December 16 to comment.

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