To The Editor:
On September 21, 2003 in Oakland, California, three-year-old Chazarus Hill, Jr. was beaten to death by his father. The story brought anguish to the hearts of Bay Area residents who followed the news about this toddler’s horrific death. On that same day, countless other children were abused by their caretakers, but to a lesser degree. What happened to Chazarus was called a crime. What happened to the others apparently was of little or no concern to anyone.
I believe there is a subtext to this story — one that hasn’t been dealt with in the media or anywhere else that we are aware of. It is this: Parents who hit their children have the law on their side. The very same act, if perpetrated against another adult, is a criminal offense, but against one’s own child, it’s legal. The elusive line that separates so-called reasonable punishment from illegal abuse becomes visible only after it has been crossed. Then it may be too late for the child, as indeed it was too late for little Chazarus.
Eventually our lawmakers will come to their senses and remove the exemption in the law that gives child abusers their alibi of choice: “I was only administering discipline.” When that loophole is closed, Child Protective Services will be obliged to take a zero-tolerance position against any and all hitting of children. Until then, children will remain at risk, and we will retain our shameful rank among developed nations as a leading killer of children.
Executive Director, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
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