Sunday, January 21, 2007

California Legislature Considers Ban on Spanking

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The Associated Press reports that California legislators are considering a ban on spanking children under the age of four:

California parents could face jail and a fine for spanking their young children under legislation a state lawmaker has promised to introduce next week.

Democratic Assemblywoman Sally Lieber said such a law is needed because spanking victimizes helpless children and breeds violence in society.

"I think it's pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child," Lieber said. "Is it OK to whip a 1-year-old or a 6-month-old or a newborn?"

Lieber said her 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.

Aides to the assemblywoman said they are still working on a definition for spanking.

Some Republican lawmakers called the idea ridiculous. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he may be receptive to it even though he has concerns about how the ban would be enforced.

That would be my concern, too. I don't see why it should be legal to hit a child just because it's the child's parents doing the hitting; but I also don't see how a law making it a punishable offense could work in practice.

That said, parental attitudes like this one clarify the need for a ban on spanking, if it could be made enforceable:

"The day that the [government] gives birth to my children, then they have a right to raise them," wrote Esther. "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."

It's interesting to me that this mother views her children as property. It's also interesting that Nancy Vogel, who wrote the Los Angeles Times article in which the above quote appears, adds:

She [Sally Lieber, the anti-spanking bill's sponsor] will be hard-pressed to get support from Republican lawmakers, who are typically wary of expanding government's role in family life.

That's no longer as true as it once might have been. Republican lawmakers are enormously willing, and eager, to expand government's role in family life. Parental notification laws are one notable example, but there are others: Republican opposition to allowing teens to have access to condoms and other forms of birth control, and their corresponding support for pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, or any form of contraception, for example. Nurses and other hospital medical staff who will not give rape victims information about emergency contraception also get support from Republican lawmakers.

All of these policies constitute expansions of government's role in family life. Why would they be acceptable, if a law forbidding parents to hit their children would not be? I suppose there is a twisted kind of consistency at work here: To those who believe that a child's body belongs to her parents, it might make sense that a woman's body belongs to the state.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

I don't see what's so difficult about enforcing such a law. If I go out and punch someone, I could be charged for assault and battery. Why not handle hitting children as a subset of a+b, so we can use existing laws?

BTW I don't use the word 'spanking'. I call it what it is. Hitting.