Judge tells smack father: 'You can't get away with that now'

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A father convicted of assault after smacking his son on the bottom has been told by a judge that parents cannot get away with such behaviour any longer.

The eight-year-old boy suffered a bruised shoulder after his 33-year-old father pulled him onto a bed and bent him over his knee, smacking him three times with an open hand across the buttocks.

The man, whose name was permanently suppressed, was sentenced to nine months supervision including anger management at Masterton District Court yesterday.

Today interest groups were split on whether the court decision was proof of protection for children or evidence of parents being unfairly targeted.

Police claimed the boy also suffered bruised buttocks, but the defendant disputed this, the Wairarapa Times-Age reported.

The man had arrived at his home in Masterton from work in the evening, to be told the boy had been in trouble at school.

He had confronted the boy in the bedroom where the offence occurred.

He later told police he had over-reacted and lost his temper.

Judge Anthony Walsh told him, "one time, maybe, you could have got away with this, but you can't do that now".

Judge Walsh said there were "other ways of disciplining, short of violence."

"You must understand that what you did amounted to an assault. Our law has been amended so that children are protected."

Judge Walsh asked the man's partner, who was seated in court with a victim's adviser, how the boy was now.

"He's playing on it, like, 'you can't sit next to me, Dad,'" she said.

The woman said her partner was still relating to his son, "but not the disciplining - I'm doing that."

"As a parent, all parents know children can be challenging," Judge Walsh told the defendant.

"But you're the adult, and you need to take responsibility and sort it out."

"As long as he knows there are certain rules he must comply with and if not there are consequences, for example time out and loss of privileges, then that's the way to go."

Child advocacy group Barnardos New Zealand today welcomed the court's decision.

Acting chief executive Peter Gerrie said: "I believe this is the first reported case in which the new law relating to child discipline in the home has been tested in court and the law has worked well.

"Opponents of the law change are predictably alarmed, but they should examine the reported facts.

"The child was grabbed so forcibly as to have been bruised. The mother of the child was sufficiently concerned to photograph the bruising and discuss the situation with others.

"Someone was sufficiently concerned by the photo and what the mother said as to file a report. The police were sufficiently concerned to prosecute."

But Family First New Zealand national director Bob McCoskrie is calling for the National Party to change the smacking law.

"John Key said that the law should not criminalise good parents for lightly smacking their children," Mr McCoskrie said.

"Here we have a young family, an expectant mother, a father attempting to do his very best, and a law which treats him as a criminal rather than a system that offers the support, encouragement and resources they may need."

Mr McCoskrie said they were being told of cases where children would say to their parents " you can't touch me or I'll tell the police".

In May, Parliament passed Green MP Sue Bradford's controversial "anti-smacking bill", which repealed section 59 of the Crimes Act and removed a parent's defence of "reasonable force" for discipline.

Judge Walsh, after hearing an oral probation report, said the man appeared motivated to undertake anger management anyway, but made it a condition of supervision because "money would be a factor".

Family First New Zealand is highlighting a case where a mother and her daughter were interviewed by police after an accident outside a supermarket.

The lobby group is using the case to raise awareness for their petition calling for a referendum on the new legislation.

According to the group, a mother was leaving a supermarket with her five year-old daughter when her daughter dropped some money. The mother chased the money dropped by her daughter and then took her daughter's hand and headed her towards their car.

On the way to the car the daughter tripped up and when the mother got her to the car, she gave her a hug and a kiss.

About an hour later two police were at her front door. They interviewed the mother and daughter and did not press charges.

However, Ms Bradford said it was heartening to see that more and more people are reporting suspected cases of abuse.

"That's the job of the police, to find out. Maybe it was one of those terrible cases that could have been happening. How do we know unless the police investigate?" Ms Bradford said.

She said it is frightening when police suddenly turn up.

"But that doesn't mean it is not the job of the police to investigate reports," Ms Bradford said.

She said it is part of the cost of being more vigilant when it comes to the possible abuse of children.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE, additional reporting EDWARD GAY, NZPA

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