Should parents who spank their kids be open to criminal prosecution?

Last month, the federal government of Canada promised to adopt all 94 recommendations set forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In doing so, the Governing Liberals are agreeing to remove the country’s so-called spanking law.

For those who aren’t familiar with this law, it is section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code and reads as follows:

“Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”

In light of this news, children’s rights groups from all over the country have spoken up on this article of law, which they’ve been trying to repeal for years.

The Canadian Foundation for Children argued that spanking violated children’s protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that Section 43 makes children unequal before the law. Another argument was that the law is so vague that it gives judges too much discretion when faced with parents charged with hitting their kids.

Kathy Lynn, chair of Corinne’s Quest, a British Columbia based organization, has been interviewed numerous times in the last last month and is equally against spanking. Her main arguments are that it is an archaic practice and that there is absolutely no need to ever physically hit a child. She insists that as long as this law exists we’re saying that we can legally assault children in this country and doing so implies that we regard children as property.

Her most recurring argument, like many anti-spanking advocates, is that 30 years of research show that childhood spanking leads to risks of all sorts of bad things later on in life; from increased violent behavior to depression, abuse, lower IQ and even a reduction of the brain’s grey matter.

These studies have been done by renowned psychologists and it is no wonder that in today’s increasingly tolerant and politically correct world, it is very easy to agree, and to adopt a less aggressive approach when disciplining a child.

On the other side of the spectrum, many people, like Dianne Watts, former mayor of Surrey, British Columbia and researcher at Real Women of Canada, are against criminalizing spanking. In a recent CBC interview Ms. Watts emphasized the fact that section 43 is there to protect parents.

Removing it would bring the state into families private business and place restrictions on the amount of autonomy parents have when disciplining their children. She also says that the spanking has to be done in a loving manner in order to correct children and cautions against thinking of an open handed swat on the bum as a form of abuse.

The former Surrey mayor also points us in the direction of studies, like one done by the Institute of Human Development at the University of California that concluded that there is no lasting harm among teenagers from moderate spanking earlier in childhood.

If we were to analyze a lot of the studies done on this issue, it would be easy to conclude that in fact the science is quite limited. No ethics committee would approve of research that would randomly subject kids to spanking, thus it is impossible to perform the perfect randomized and controlled study.

This leads researchers to observational studies, which are quite difficult to interpret. A gentle swat on the bum is often lumped together with face slapping, beating or hitting so hard as to cause bruises. Because of the observational nature of the many studies performed, it is impossible to identify cause and effect.

When faced with all this contradicting information I would personally err on the side of caution before making any definite statements on whether a parent should spank or not, and further more if the practice really has long term harmful effects.

Child rearing remains a practice that is extremely personal, and the way children turn out depends on many complex things such as environmental and biological factors, interpersonal relationships and early environments and experiences.

We are dealing here with an issue that continues to reflect deep divides in our societies. Not having kids of my own, I’m sure to get some eyes rolling, however, I am against removing Section 43 from the Canadian Criminal Code.

Removing the spanking law can lead to a lot of broken families and unnecessary funds spent on processing cases where parents end up being charged. Those who are against the practice and convinced that it is unnecessary and harmful, should probably focus more on informing others than insisting on criminalizing something based on their personal views and limited science.

The best way to change someone’s mind, if indeed it needs changing, remains through education and not by imposing one particular point of view.

2 COMMENTS

  1. There certainly are no easy answers here, but my view is, since it is such a personal matter, and as long as a child is disciplined properly and there is no physical harm, bruising or even a reddening of the skin, it should be considered as moderate.

    However, probably a better way would be to use positive reinforcement and reasoning (if the child is old enough, as trying to reason with a child that has not learned to talk yet is a questionable area) so instead of saying “don’t run”, one could use a more positive enforcement and say it as “please walk” for instance.

    Still there are so many variables, that there is not one blanket answer. Common sense helps, but that is not so common anymore either.

    I could add that some of this behavior that is passed down and then there are verses in religious texts that don’t help matters either, but that is for another discussion…..

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