Wellington - Is it okay for parents to hit their children when they are naughty?
That question looms as an issue in the campaign leading up to New Zealand's election on September 17, as a Christian group claiming the Bible approves of smacking children, prepares to challenge proposals to outlaw parental discipline by force.
A private member's bill currently before parliament would repeal a section of the Crimes Act which says parents who use "reasonable force" to discipline their children cannot be charged with assault.
Children are not always 'little bundles of innocence'
Green Party MP Sue Bradford, who says the law is out-of-date and hitting children is wrong, won support from the Labour government for the bill to go before a parliamentary committee for further discussion.
The opposition conservative National Party says parents have always used a light and harmless smack to discipline their unruly or disobedient offspring and changing the law would turn good moms and dads into criminals.
Police have confirmed that a law change would mean parents could not legally smack their youngsters as a form of discipline, though it would still be okay to use force to prevent them from being hurt - like stopping a child running out onto a busy road.
A Christian group called the Home Education Foundation has fired the debate by issuing a pamphlet entitled A Working Definition Of Spanking. It claims many Christian parents consider forcible punishment their religious duty "to deal with a child's rebellious actions and attitudes".
It suggests parents use a "stiff, flexible, rod" rather than a hand, which should be a source of "love, care and affection".
Changing the law would turn good moms and dads into criminals Another of their publications called The Christian Foundations Of The Institution Of Corporal Correction argues that children are "not little bundles of innocence", but quotes the Bible as saying they are "little bundles of depravity" (Psalm 51:5) and can develop into "unrestrained agents of evil".
The author Craig Smith quotes Proverbs 22:15:
"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of correction will drive it far from him."
Carey College, a small private Christian school in Panmure, Auckland, has sent the spanking pamphlet to parents, drawing criticism from Bradford, a 53-year-old mother of three, and from New Zealand's Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro.
Bradford said: "It's a real pity that a Christian school isn't following the Christian principles of compassion and love for children rather than advocating physical discipline at this level." - Sapa-dpa