Turning Parents into Criminals

A great way to turn most parents into criminals overnight would be to ban all corporal punishment in the home. Make smacking illegal, and most of the adult population would find themselves to be lawbreakers. That is the likely outcome of yet another call to ban all hitting of children.

In the latest effort to eliminate all smacking, some Australian psychologists have said smacking leads to child homicide. Here is how one news report puts it:

“Child homicide rates could be slashed if parents are banned from smacking their children, according to new research by Australian doctors. Revealing that a third of child homicides are caused by ‘fatal child abuse’ linked to corporal punishment by parents and carers, psychologists have called for smacking to be outlawed. Of the 165 cases of child homicide committed in New South Wales between 1991 and 2005, 59 were caused by physical punishments with young fathers and stepfathers the biggest culprits. The call is being backed by Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive officer Joe Tucci, who said the risks associated with physical punishment were too great to allow smacking to continue.”

The research was led by Dr Olav Nielssen from Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital who said it was time for Australia to follow international lead: “A third of the homicides were due to fatal child abuse and any measure that reduced it is worth considering it”.

The entire article is an interesting exercise in sloppy thinking, confusion, non-sequiturs and misinformation. Let me note a few such examples. For starters, the article says fatal child abuse is “linked to corporal punishment by parents and carers”. But just what is the link, and how is it measured?

It is of course true to say that almost all child deaths have to involve some sort of corporal punishment or abuse. But obviously not all corporal punishment is to be equated with abuse or the violent punishment that leads to death.

Yet these experts are telling us all corporal discipline of children must be banned, because some children die of child abuse. But that is as helpful as saying all automobile driving must be banned, because some drivers abuse their privilege, drive while drunk, and kill someone.

And of course Sweden is mentioned in the article. It banned smacking 30 years ago. The article quoted Nielssen as saying, “Everyone laughed when Sweden introduced it (smacking bans) 30 years ago, but in the 15 years after they did they didn’t have a single case of fatal child abuse and a lot of other countries have followed suit.”

There are a number of problems with this claim. First, note that he says 15 years – but the ban has been in place for 30 years. There have been a number of cases of fatal child abuse in Sweden since the ban came into place. Also, there was a very low level of fatal child abuse in Sweden before the ban came in effect. So the ban really changed nothing in this regard, and thus it was disingenuous of the good doctor to even raise the issue of Sweden.

Indeed, the research about Sweden seems to work the other way. For example, studies have found that child abuse levels have been higher in Sweden than in the US, where smacking is legal. Indeed, one study put it this way:

“Although the Swedish anti-spanking law was intended to reduce child abuse, the best empirical study since then indicated that the rate of child abuse in Sweden was 49% higher than in the United States one year after the anti-spanking law was passed. Does this mean that the anti-spanking law increased the rate of physical child abuse in Sweden? Deley’s (1988) retrospective data indicates that the Swedish physical child abuse rate was 21% of the USA rate in the 1960s and 1970s. This suggests that the anti-spanking law not only failed to achieve its goal of reducing child abuse, but that the child abuse rate increased from 21% to 149% of the equivalent USA rate, a seven-fold increase relative to the decreasing rate in the United States.”

When I debated Nielssen on radio about this topic, there was more fuzzy logic and convoluted reasoning. Interestingly, he admitted that a ban on smacking would not stop child abuse/homicide. Indeed, he was a bit wishy washy during the session, repeating the claim that something must nonetheless be done.

But his whole approach is that of mixing apples with oranges. He rightly says that some children who are abused will die. Of course – if a child is being beaten, some deaths will result. But such abuse is already illegal. Smacking a child in love as a last resort is not child abuse. Why does he keep equating the two, when they are clearly different?

And on the radio debate he said smacking is always done in anger by parents, who are emotionally hyped up. Is that true? Do all smacks come from anger? Many smacks are the loving acts of a parent trying to prevent serious harm to a toddler. For example, when a two-year-old is reaching for the fire, a quick rap on the hand has nothing to do with anger or emotion, but everything to do with parents lovingly seeking to protect the child.

New Zealand has recently banned smacking, and there has been quite a backlash there about it. As Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ says, “The smacking ban in NZ has done more harm than good with a 30 per cent increase in parents being referred to social agencies yet a decrease in cases warranting further investigation. And the child abuse rate continues unabated. No decent research shows a smack by a loving parent breeds violence. That’s why a petition signed by over 300,000 kiwis has forced a referendum on the issue, and polls show that around 80 per cent of New Zealanders continue to oppose the anti-smacking law.”

McCoskrie also notes how the evidence points away from the prohibitionists: “The 2007 UNICEF report on child abuse said that the likelihood of a child being injured or killed is associated with parental drug or alcohol abuse, weak family ties, single-parenthood, low maternal education, low maternal age at birth, poverty, and poor housing. In the 2003 UNICEF report on maltreatment deaths, of the five countries with the lowest child abuse death rates in the UNICEF report, four allowed smacking. Of the ten safest countries for children in the 2007 report, six hadn’t banned smacking.”

Indeed, remember what was reported in the article: “Of the 165 cases of child homicide committed in New South Wales between 1991 and 2005, 59 were caused by physical punishments with young fathers and stepfathers the biggest culprits.” It is not clear here as to which group is the main culprit – fathers or stepfathers, but from other research the answer should be evident.

From 35 years of social science data, we know that the safest place for a child to live is with his own biological mother and father. Any other family structure will greatly increase the risk of danger for the child, including that of child abuse and death. Any male living in the household other than a child’s biological father will up the odds of these activities. The research on this is voluminous. Let me offer just a few Australian examples here.

The former Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin has reported a 500 to 600 per cent increase in sexual abuse of girls in families where the adult male was not the natural father. Heather Strang of the Australian Institute of Criminology notes that infants under the age of 12 months are the population group at highest risk of being murdered, and the most likely killer of a child is his or her non-biological father – “in other words, the mother’s new partner.” Furthermore, a study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that children of single mothers are three times more likely to suffer physical or emotional abuse.

A 1994-95 study by the AIHW found that more cases of child abuse involved children from single parent families (39%) than families with two natural parents (30%) or other two-parent families (such as families with a step-parent) (21%). Of neglect cases, 47% involved children from female single parent families compared with 26% from families with two natural parents. More recent Australian research has found that the typical child murderer is a young man in a de facto relationship with the victim’s mother.

A study of 1998-1999 Victorian child abuse victims found that 45 per cent lived with single parents. The report, by the AIHW, found that children who lived in natural two-parent families had a relatively low risk of abuse. And a more recent report from the same Institute reveals that children are most likely to be neglected or abused in single-parent families. It found that the ACT has the highest rate of maltreatment of children from female one-parent families (47 per cent), compared with 29 per cent in two-parent natural families and 18 per cent in step families or blended families.

Of course international studies come up with exactly the same results. So if we are really serious about reducing the levels of child abuse and child homicides, we need to do more to strengthen and support two-parent biological families. This, instead, of creating a whole new class of parental criminals, is the wise way to proceed.

In sum, the evidence is simply not there that a ban on smacking will lead to less child abuse and deaths. The connection between the two simply does not exist. The smacking ban crowd may be well-intentioned, but sometimes good intentions can lead to bad outcomes.

This is especially so when the social engineers want to coercively promote their utopian schemes. Using the strong arm of the law, and turning genuine parental discipline into a criminal activity is hardly a family-friendly policy. And it will not help children either. Perhaps what we really need to ban are those who would ban smacking, and their befuddled academic supporters.


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16 Replies to “Turning Parents into Criminals”

  1. The Lord deliver us from shrinks, and all their evil works!

    The PC brigade, in their zeal for children’s “rights” and welfare (that’s right – the same crowd for the most part who want free and open abortion, even infanticide) have been pushing for this for some time. And they never give up!. These are also the same people who raise a hue and cry about censorship, or invasion of privacy, when the occasion demands. But of course, here the occasion is quite the reverse, and so we have this call, already implemented in NZ, but which was a factor in Helen Clark losing government. But undaunted, they press on.

    Murray Adamthwaite

  2. The attempt throughout most western countries to introduce a ban on smacking has not so much to do with a rise in child abuse but a refusal to acknowledge the fallen state of man and that children are born as sinners – helpless and without worldly experience maybe, but sinners, none the less.

    According the evolutionary and Marxist humanists, since we no longer burn witches and heretics means that such sins as witchcraft and heresy no longer exist. However, just because we no longer hang murderers or administer corporal punishment to rebellious and defiant children, does this mean that murderers and recalcitrant children no longer exist or that gossip and cheating are no longer crimes?

    In the minds of those who consider themselves more civilised, enlightened, sophisticated and more in tune with the evolutionary humanist values of the 21st century, this must be so. For them murder and delinquent behaviour are seen to be merely functions of deprivation, bad housing, education and lack of access to drug therapy – or the a slump in the American housing market. With social and chemical engineering and evolutionary progress, they believe that they will be able to create a progressive society that runs as smoothly and efficiently as a clockwork orange. Bad behaviour amongst school children today has to be “managed” not confronted.

    For me to tell a child that it is wrong, that its behaviour is bad or that it ought to have a holy fear, will have the psychiatrists and counsellors rushing to have me removed as far away from children as possible.

    Rousseau famously said: ‘Man was born free; and everywhere is in chains’ (The Social Contract, 1762). I would say that children are born in chains and that our educational system only heaps more chains on them by shielding them from the negative consequences of their own antisocial behaviour.

    In 2004 I submitted the following letter the editor of the Association of Christian Teachers: “Many of us foresaw in the UK that without corporal punishment, the education system would go into meltdown. And although many parents and ordinary members of the public would – ‘behind closed doors’ – give assent to this notion, it remains something of an anathema to ‘experts’ and ‘educationists’. If, in a school staff room, I were to voice my remedy of bringing back corporal punishment for today’s spiralling indiscipline, I would surely elicit a barrage of scornful cries: ‘unenlightened!’ ‘Medieval!’ ‘barbaric, criminal’!”

    David Skinner, UK

  3. An excellent commentary on this issue Bill. May you continue to bring forth the truth into 2009!
    Teresa Binder

  4. Hi Bill,

    Governments banning the use of the rod to train and discipline children not only make parents criminals, but much more seriously, invite them to deny the word of God:

    He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
    Proverbs 13:24

    Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
    Proverbs 22:15

    Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
    Proverbs 23:13

    Interestingly, the last verse quoted explicitly breaks the supposed link between proper corporal correction and “child-homicide”. I highly recommend the book ‘To Train up a Child’ by Michael and Debi Pearl to all parents for an extremely practical view of scripturally consistent child training.

    Mansel Rogerson, Melbourne

  5. “Indeed, he was a bit wishy washy during the session, repeating the claim that something must nonetheless be done.”

    See this clip from Yes Prime Minister astutely showing the logical fallacy involved. For those who can’t see it, two head civil servants (Sir Arnold Robinson and Sir Humphrey Appleby) illustrated ‘politician’s logic’:

    1) Something must be done;
    2) This is something;
    ? We must do it.

    As pointed out in the program, this is just as invalid as:

    1) All cats have four legs;
    2) My dog has four legs;
    ? My dog is a cat.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  6. Mansel Rogerson quotes Proverbs 23:13:

    “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die”

    and states that:
    “Interestingly, the last verse quoted explicitly breaks the supposed link between proper corporal correction and “child-homicide”.

    It is a matter of both logic and medical fact that even a single blow with a blunt object, applied with sufficient force to the head or to damage a vital organ, can kill a child.

    While noone here would advocate that kind of excessive punishment, surely this is a case where the Bible cannot be interpreted literally.

    M J Willis

  7. The anti-smacking brigade are a product of the present generation who believe that we are innocent victims of being bullied, excluded, deprived and discriminated against. We all carry and wave our victim cards.

    The anti-smacking brigade would defiantly tear out biblical verses like, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” Psalm 111, or “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Luke 15:5. They would instead invoke a New Age god of love.

    C.S. Lewis said “The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials ‘for the sake of humanity’, and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man”, Mere Christianity, Chapter II.

    Canadian Michael D. O’Brien is here is talking about homosexuality, but I believe that what he is saying is connected to the anti-smacking lobby:

    “How long will it take for our people to understand that when humanist sentiments replace moral absolutes, it is not long before very idealistic people begin to invade human families in the name of the family, and destroy human lives in the name of humanity? This is the idealist’s greatest temptation, the temptation by which nations and cultures so often fall. The wielder of power is deluded into thinking he can remould reality into a less unkind condition. If he succeeds in convincing his people of the delusion and posits for them an enemy of the collective good, then unspeakable evils can be released in society. Those who share a mass-delusion rarely recognise it as such, and can pursue the most heinous acts in a spirit of self-righteousness.”

    David Skinner, UK

  8. The UK government is pressing more and more for the age at which children may legally engage in sexual acts be lowered:


    The government also pours millions of pounds into outfits like the Family Planning Association, whose message for teenagers is to either use a condom or to find other ways, apart from coitus, to pleasure their sexual partner:


    In their publications they advise:

    ‘No one is born sexually experienced,….talk to your partner .Ask what they like.’

    ‘People often find that changing a relationship to a sexual one is a bigger step than they think. You don’t have ‘to go all the way’ to have a good time…..Kissing and petting can be a lot of fun and are all part of sex. And knowing how your partner like to be touched is what makes you a good lover.’

    It appears that as long as both( all) partners are consenting everything is permissible. Nothing is off limits, including, presumably sado-masochism and bondage. If smacking between a sixteen year old and thirteen year old is designed to bring pleasure that, according to the government, can only be good, healthy and wholesome.

    Whereas to use corporal punishment to stop a child destroying itself is criminal.

    Hello. Is anyone out there?

    David Skinner, UK

  9. M J Willis is not displaying much logic if they intended to convey the idea that the Bible got it wrong with regard to child discipline. Obviously the type of punishment recommended in the Bible is not that which involves a “blow with a blunt object” applied with force to the head or a vital organ. If we can’t take the Bible literally on this issue, then why should we take it literally on any subject?

    Ewan McDonald.

  10. Hi Bill

    Some interesting comments from you and others on this issue. Thought you might be interested in my recent comments to the Perth Now article on “Smacking linked to Child Deaths” copied below:

    The perennial calls from academics for undiscriminating blanket bans on all physical discipline of children will do nothing but make 100s of 1000s of responsible Aussie parents criminals. It is already a criminal offence for any person to bash up or assault a child (or adult). The law, and majority of sensible adults, already recognises the difference between brutal assault and normal parental discipline of normal naughty kids. It is ridiculous to suggest that there is an urgent need to bring in anti-smacking laws and dishonest to suggest that these will drastically reduce child deaths from abuse as there is no reliable evidence to support such an extravagent claim.
    How about targeting new laws at the chief factors known to result in serious child abuse and neglect rather then sledgehammer controls against the majority of (smacking) ordinary parents?
    A key factor in the majority of child abuse cases is drug and alcohol abuse by parents and those having custody and care of a child. Why not make it illegal for a person caring for a child to be under the influence of illicit drugs or excess alcohol?
    We criminalise those who have control of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol because we recognise the danger to all. Why not also legally recognise the danger of a parent, stepparent or other guardian being drunk, stoned or high while caring for a child, especially those who are chronically drunk or drug affected?
    Banning drug and alcohol abuse by parents or others having care and custody of a child would have a far greater impact in preventing child abuse and neglect by targeting those most at risk of being perpetrators. It would also give child welfare officers more teeth to get a child at high risk out of a dangerous family situation earlier rather then have to wait until there is obvious physical evidence that a child is being abused or neglected by a chronically substance addicted parent or guardian.

    (Comment to Perth now article on http://www.news.com.au/perthnow/comments/0,21590,24873690-5005370,00.html )

    Gail Gifford

  11. I would also like to add that, as a Christian mother of 4 children now aged between 11 and 19 years (ie. with almost 20 years of hands on experience of parenting) I do have some sympathy for those who are upset by the physical discipline of kids as I have seen some examples of parents who do NOT use physical discipline of children in a safe responsible way.

    Christians need to be careful about brandishing the Scriptures on “sparing the rod” too carelessly and unconditionally and remember the “rod” mentioned is the rod of PURPOSEFUL DISCIPLINE (as used by traditional shepherds to guide errant sheep in the right direction) – not of uncontrolled, senseless or vindictive beating. We are supposed to discipline our children for THEIR good and Gods glory – not to release our own frustrations and anger.

    Some reasonable practical guidelines that would help parents distinguish between discipline and abuse would be useful I think. My own personal family guidelines for using physical discipline include:

    1) No hitting around the head, neck or abdomen of a child. Physical punishments involving slaps or blows to a childs head can cause damage to hearing and eyesight. I also feel a slap to the face is a particular psychological blow as it is an attack on a very personal and unique part of everyones personality. If someone slaps you in the face you feel they hate you as a person. Physical discipline is most appropriately confined to hands, legs and bottoms.

    2) No spanking with anything other then flat of hand or short flat paddle-like instrument (hair-brush/wooden spoon etc) – it is potentially unsafe and imappropriate to use instruments such as canes, whips, electrical cords, or to punch a child with a closed fist as a discipline measure.

    3) No spanking of an infant or toddler under the age of 18 months. – It is not necessary or appropriate to spank a baby or small toddler. Apart from the physical dangers of smacking a very small body, babies do not have the maturity to reliably understand that behaviour has consequences at so young an age and this is essential for discipline to be real discipline. Babies don’t cry and ‘play up ‘ because they are sinners who need the devil beaten out of them – they cry because God has given them this very effective means to ensure their essential needs for care and nourishment are noticed by their parents. Crying babies don’t need punishment – they need responsive parenting until such time (usually recognised by their parents as the onset of the “terrible 2’s” period of their development) as they are able to recognise and benefit from appropriate controlled discipline to moderate deliberately wilful behaviour.

    4) At the other end of the age scale I do not think it is appropriate to use spanking/physical discipline once children reach highschool age (12-13). Once children reach puberty I feel their body becomes much more their own private property. Parents who regularly have baths with their younger kids would not dream of forcing their adolescent teenager to have a bath with them for instance. Also a teenager who is spanked like a smaller child is more likely to respond with strong emotions such as anger and humiliation due to the natural confusion of hormonal origin that is the norm at this age.
    By the time a child is a teenager they should be mature enough to be able to understand the idea of consequences such as loss of privileges for bad behaviour which would be a more appropriate discipline measure at this age.

    5) Following on from my comment to Perth Now above, I also feel it should be clearly understand that it is never safe for a parent or guardian to attempt to discipline a child while they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol dramatically interfere with the parents ability to distinguish the facts of the situation and what is an appropriate response to it. Get out and sober up first!

    Overall, I feel that, as Christians, we need to recognise that the issue of child abuse vs.smacking is not just a simple one of being either pro-smacking bans or a Christian parent who is against any restrictions on parents disciplining of children (and therefore in the eyes of many secular academics, in favour of allowing parental abuse). The Christian community need to respond wisely to the debate on this issue.

    Gail Gifford

  12. I would agree with Gail that in the past there were many abuses of corporal punishment and that this must be strenuously avoided. Physical punishment should be used to build up a child and not to destroy it. However we live in a time when even raising an eye brow or voice to a child can result in a teacher losing their job. Not only have consequences of crossing lines disappeared but the lines themselves have disappeared.

    As a nine year old I received six of the best from my teacher for something of which I was totally innocent. I don’t think it turned me into psychological mess but it did teach me was that there were lines over which we cross at our peril. A colleague of mine recounted that when he was boy his new chemistry teacher lined up the whole class, just for starters, and caned the lot! I don’t know if they learned much chemistry but they certainly learnt in advance the lesson of cause and effect!

    David Skinner, UK

  13. I agree with you David that the whole area of discipline has become frought with anxiety for both parents and teachers. This is why there is an opportunity here for Christian parents to educate the wider community about loving, positive, confident discipline (physical and other forms) framed by sensible guidelines based on a biblical perspective.
    I do rather cringe at the regularly heard refrain that “I was whipped/caned/beaten as a child and it never did me no harm!” as this is just asking for academics to seek evidence linking such old school discipline to harmful effects (and any researcher knows you can always find some evidence if you look hard enough). Also you can just about guarantee this will invite an opposing comment from someone who was badly and indiscriminately beaten as a child and suffers long term depression/anxiety/relationship problems which they will blame solely on their childhood experiences.
    Better to stop trying to disprove the harm/no-harm theories about childhood corporal punishment and focus on promoting a healthy positve controlled and loving parental discipline model from a Christian perspective. This is far more useful to modern parents then comparisons of child rearing habits of long ago.
    Gail Gifford

  14. Such a bill must be defeated in Australia. As NZ showed, it’s very hard to rescind such a bill, even with a change of government and massive referendum support. The new Prime Minister arrogantly ignored the referendum and refused to appeal the deeply unpopular law of the previous government.
    Jonathan Sarfati, US

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