New Zealanders back smacking

Click to follow

Two years after their country became the first in the world to outlaw smacking, New Zealanders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of restoring a parent's right to use force to discipline their children.

According to preliminary results of a referendum, almost 90 per cent of people want the law to be repealed. John Key, whose conservative government was elected last year, has not committed himself to following New Zealanders' wishes. But he said yesterday he would propose measures to ensure the legislation worked better.

The original law was an attempt to address juvenile cruelty statistics that placed New Zealand third among 27 nations for child deaths resulting from maltreatment. It was introduced following a series of notorious cases, including that of two three-month-old boys beaten to death by a relative. But New Zealanders objected to smacking being equated with child abuse, and the law is thought to have contributed to Helen Clark's Labour government being ousted at the last election.

The referendum was initiated after 300,000 people signed a petition. However, its wording – which asked "Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" – was criticised by some.

The current law gives police discretionary powers not to prosecute where the offence is trivial. Of 202 cases reported during the first 21 months, only 12 were prosecuted.