Monday, January 29, 2007

Spank a Child, Go to Jail

In a state beset with myriad knotty problems ranging from immigration to the governor's broken leg, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has hit on an issue that many of us will get behind. So to speak.

The Mountain View Democrat has proposed banning the spanking of young children.

That's right, folks. Spank a child, go to jail.

Lieber's proposal would make spanking, hitting and slapping a child under 4-years-old a misdemeanor. Adults could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Presumembly, doctors who give a child a whack at birth would be exempted.

No less a father figure than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he thinks the proposal was well intentioned but had doubts about how a ban would be enforced.

Having the police respond to spanking calls seems like a bad use of public safety personnel. Maybe they could create a swat team.

But the governor said he "got smacked about everything" as a child in Austria but has never hit his own kids.

As for me, I got a couple of slaps on the ear from Dad when I was out of line as a child. Mom never raised a hand against us, although I do remember her chasing my brother with a broom once. And she once threatened to stick my head in the oven if I didn't behave. She was kidding. I think.

Not everyone thinks a ban on spanking is something we need on the books.

One critic called it ``nanny-politics.'' Another said. ``Fine, then a bill should be passed to allow other parents to smack the parents of undisciplined children.''

``Where do you stop?'' asked Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, who said he personally agrees children under 3 shouldn't be spanked but has no desire to make it the law. ``At what point are we going to say we should pass a bill that every parent has to read a minimum of 30 minutes every night to their child? This is right along those same lines.''

Still, spanking of children within families is illegal in some countries (for example, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, Israel and Latvia). New Zealand is currently debating whether or not to outlaw parental spanking, having outlawed corporal punishment within its educational institutions in 1989. Similar initiatives in the U.S. have repeatedly failed.

Indeed, one parent-teacher group called Operation No Spank puts it this way:

"Children should no longer be excluded from the legal protections against assault and battery that apply to adults. Moreover, the defense of children should be more vigorous because they are more vulnerable; because the consequences of their early mistreatment are difficult to reverse; because damaged children tend to grow into damaged adults who are likely to avenge themselves in one way or another.

"If they will not harm others, then they will likely harm themselves, and they may passively support the mistreatment of children perpetrated by others. Current research in the field of child development overwhelmingly confirms the theory that the earlier and the worse the mistreatment of children, the worse the outcome."

Nobody wants to see young children get slapped around. And most parents don't abuse their children.

But even fewer people want to see the government tell them how to raise their family.

As one reader wrote to the San Jose Mercury News:

"The day that the [government] gives birth to my children, then they have a right to raise them. Till then they are mine to do with as I please. I will raise them the way I see fit. If I think that those little butts need a swat … I will be the one to give it to them."

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