The New Zealand government yesterday refused to bow in the wake of a national referendum that overwhelmingly called for a change in the law to give parents the right to smack their children.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters the referendum result would not be ignored, but neither would the law be changed.
More than 87 percent of those who voted called for the so-called “anti-smacking law” to be overturned. The postal ballot attracted 54 percent of eligible voters.
Key said he “took the message seriously” and would put a series of proposals to Cabinet next week but added there was no intention to change the law.
“My view is the law is working as was intended but I think the very strong message that comes through from this referendum is that New Zealand parents don’t want to see themselves or their neighbors or anybody else criminalized for lightly smacking a child,” he told Fairfax Media.
“There are other changes that fall short of changing the law that can be introduced to give [parents] comfort that the law will be administered in the way that I believe the compromise set out it should be,” he said.
The referendum asked: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Although the result is not binding, organizers said the government could not ignore such an overwhelming outcome.
“Because of the oxymoronic state of non-binding referenda in this country we must now ask the prime minister to respect our efforts and our voices,” referendum petition organizer Larry Baldock said. “It is time to stop claiming the ‘law is working well’ when there remains 87 percent opposition to it after more than two years.”
Child protection and anti-violence groups said the outcome of the referendum was a foregone conclusion given the “confusing and leading” question that it asked.
“The question was framed from the outset to capture a ‘no’ vote. The referendum question assumes that smacking can be part of good parental correction,” said Heather Henare, chief executive of Women’s Refuge.
The aim of the 2007 law was to curb New Zealand’s high rate of child abuse and stop people using parental discipline as a defense against assault charges. The law removed a provision which said parents could use “reasonable force” to discipline their children.
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