Thursday, 4 October 2012

How will a spanking ban help abused children?

The New American recently reported on a controversial law passed in Delaware, that effectively bans parents from spanking their children in the home. It quoted Biden saying "Far too many children are the victims of abuse, neglect and assault and [this bill] will go a long way to better protect the children of this state".

Not being familiar with Delaware legislation, I studied the laws in question, and what I learnt there left me convinced that this law will not help to protect abused children at all.

The first thing that caught my eye, was the definition of child abuse as given in the bill:
"Abuse" means causing any physical injury to a child through unjustified force as defined  in §468(1)(c) of this title, torture, negligent treatment, sexual abuse, exploitation, maltreatment, mistreatment or any means other than accident."



Further down, the bill outlines a definition of sexual abuse, but there is no mention whatsoever of verbal, emotional or psychological abuse, or any provision for anything more "creative". I googled and found the actual act, hoping that it would contain a wider definition of "abuse". What I found was:

§ 1102. Endangering the welfare of a child; class E or G felony.
(a) A person is guilty of endangering the welfare of a child when:
(1) Being a parent, guardian or any other person who has assumed responsibility for the care or supervision of a child less than 18 years old the person:
a. Knowingly acts in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of the child; or
b. Intentionally does or fails to do any act, with the result that the child becomes a neglected child; 

I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that at least there is some provision for abuse that does not cause physical injury. But my relief was short lived. Section b left me stunned and saddened.

(b) Endangering the welfare of a child shall be punished as follows:
(1) When the death of a child occurs while the child's welfare was endangered as defined in subsection (a) of this section, endangering the welfare of a child is a class E felony;
(2) When serious physical injury to a child occurs while the child's welfare was endangered as defined in subsection (a) of this section, endangering the welfare of a child is a class G felony;
(3) When a child becomes the victim of a sexual offense as defined in § 761(g) of this title while the child's welfare was endangered as defined in subsection (a) of this section, endangering the welfare of a child is a class G felony;
(4) In all other cases, endangering the welfare of a child is a class A misdemeanor.

So, in effect, a parent can lock a child in a dark cupboard, only let said child out to do all the housework, deprive the child of all human contact, scream and swear at the child, call him names and tell him that you hate the fact that he was born, threaten to murder him, etc, etc, and you will only get a misdemeanor, and won't go to jail for more than a year.

But woe betide the parent who dares to spank a child - he will be charged with a felony, and possibly imprisoned for much longer.

I have always attributed the general perception that abuse is when you beat or starve your kid, or sexual abuse, to public ignorance. It seems that in at least one U.S. state, I was wrong. That mis-perception is law.

How will Senate Bill no 234 help abused children?

It won't help them at all. This bill will not make it any easier for children to get help, and it makes no attempt to address anything other than spanking. For the child-abusers, it is business as usual. The only thing this law will accomplish is to turn loving, well meaning parents who don't know an alternative way to discipline their children, into criminals.

That child who is crouching in the cupboard, dreading his parent's footsteps approaching the door, still won't have a case.

Mr Biden obviously doesn't have the faintest idea what abuse really means. I can only hope that he realizes how lucky he is to be able to be that ignorant.

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