It's a controversial topic but there are many parents out there who prefer to give their kids a smack as a way to discipline them. Some parents find hitting a child, no matter how softly you do it, absolutely deplorable. But is smacking your kids even legal? We have the answer.
Wooden spoons were once the weapon of choice for mothers who wanted to physically punish their children. My mum was a seamstress and preferred a long, thick wooden ruler used to measure fabric. These days, time-poor parents use a quick smack, often delivered in the heat of the moment when their children are behaving badly.
In a poll of nearly 1400 Australians by News Corp, 75.7% considered it acceptable to smack children as a way to deter them from misbehaving. Meanwhile 39.5% said they would be furious if they see their friends smack their kids.
It's definitely a controversial topic but according to the law, it's not illegal to smack your children in Australia. However, there are conditions. According to the Australian Institute Of Family Studies:
"In some jurisdictions a parent's right to use corporal punishment is provided for in legislation (e.g., New South Wales), while in others it is provided for by the common law ("judge-made law") (e.g., Victoria). All Australian states and territories condone (in principle) the use of force by a parent, by way of correction, towards a child."
For example, in NSW, prior to 2002 it was up to judges to decide what kind of physical punishment was acceptable. Since the state introduced the Crimes Amendment (Child Protection Physical Measures Act, there is now clarification on what kind of physical punishment is permissible on a child.
According to the amendment, it's okay to use physical force on a child provided that it "was reasonable having regard to the age, health, maturity or other characteristics of the child, the nature of the alleged misbehaviour or other circumstances". Also, you can't hit them above the neck or "any other part of the body of the child in such a way as to be likely to cause harm to the child that lasts for more than a short period".
Here's a breakdown of how the each state deals with physical punishment of a child:
- ACT: No legislation relating to corporal punishment by parents. Relies on common law defence. See Children's Services Act, 1986 (ACT)
- NSW:Laws specify that physical punishment by a parent "shouldn't harm a child more than briefly" and limits the use of excessive physical force to punish children. See Crimes Amendment (Child Protection-Physical Mistreatment) Act 2001 (NSW)
- NT: Lawful for parents and teachers (unless expressly told not by parents) can use physical force to discipline a child. Under the Criminal Code Act:
"In the circumstances following, the application of force is justified provided it is not unnecessary force and it is not intended and is not such as is likely to cause death or serious harm: in the case of a parent or guardian of a child, or a person in the place of such parent or guardian, to discipline, manage or control such child".
- VIC:No legislation relating to corporal punishment by parents. Relies on common law defence.
- QLD: According to The Criminal Code Act 1899:
" It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent ... to use, by way of correction, discipline, management or control, towards a child or pupil, under the person's care, such force that is reasonable under the circumstances." See The Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD) Section 280.
- SA: No legislation relating to corporal punishment by parents. Relies on common law defence. See Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), Section 20
- WA:Physical punishment by a parent towards a child is lawful under the Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA): "It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent ... to use, by way of correction, toward a child or pupil under his care, such force as is reasonable under the circumstances." See Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA), Section 257
- TAS: Physical punishment by a parent towards a child is lawful under the Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS): "It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent to use, by way of correction, any force towards a child in his or her care that is reasonable in the circumstances." See Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS), Section 50
As you can see, it is deemed acceptable to smack your child without using excessive force. But if you go overboard and seriously harm your child, that's considered child abuse and is absolutely illegal.
I think a pertinent question to ask is whether physical punishment is effective. I'm not a parent so it's hard for me to weigh in on the issue with much authority, but I always thought my dad's psychological tactics affected me more than my mother's painful whacks with the giant ruler.
Are you for or against physically punishing children when they misbehave? Let us know in the comments.
Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.