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Should Spanking Be Illegal?

Delaware passes law expanding child abuse definition.

Delaware parents better think twice before they spank their children. A new bill passed earlier this month redefines the term “physical injury” in the child abuse and neglect laws to broadly mean "any impairment of physical condition or pain."

The controversial Bill 234, sponsored by Delaware's Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins and passed by Governor Jack Markell, created three levels of child abuse.

Under the new legislation, the first and second degrees are considered felonies, and penalties increase if the victim is under four years old or suffers from developmental disabilities.

Parents who cause pain to a child under the age of 18 would be charged with a class A misdemeanor and serve up to one year in prison. A parent who causes physical injury to a child under the age of three would be charged with a class G felony and subjected to two years in prison.

The vagueness of the definition of "physical injury" has many Delaware parents nervous that it grants the government too much freedom to interpret the law as it sees fit. The law has ignited a debate over the state's rights to interfere in personal parenting choices.

Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden and proponent of the legislation, claims that taking away parental rights isn't the aim of the law. He told WDEL News Talk Radio;

This will not do anything to interfere with a parent's right or ability to parent as they see fit, but it also makes it clear that if you abuse a child in any way, shape, or form, we're going to have a statute that we're going to be able to use to protect kids.

Officials say the law will help prosecutors win cases involving babies, toddlers and disabled children who are unable to describe what happened to them.

Many skeptics question why the bill didn't include a clause to protect parents who choose spank their children. Patricia Dailey-Lewis, of the Attorney General's Office, told Delaware WBOC news that it's a complicated issue.

If we said it's okay to spank your child, and then we have a child who ends up dead from spanking, well, gee, we didn't mean that, we didn't mean kill. We didn't mean break their arm. It's such a vague area.

Despite the insistence from lawmakers, the law has come under fire from The Home School Legal Defense Association, along with the Delaware Home Education Association and the Delaware Family Policy. They claim the bill is “a violation of the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, including the long-recognized right to administer reasonable corporal discipline.”

In response to the backlash, Lewis claims the Attorney General's Office will create an ad campaign to inform the public of what is reasonable discipline and what is not.

"I believe that people understand in their heart the difference between abuse and discipline," she said.

Do you think that Bill 234 gives the state too much control over parental rights? Do you think that spanking is an effective form of discilpine or do you think that it should be banned? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Leigh Hewett October 03, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Ahem...that should read "This bill makes me kind of bajigiddy" not that illegible mess up there. Sorry.
Scarlet Buckley October 04, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Lots of good points made here in the comments section. I am personally against spanking for all of the reasons already mentioned, but something about this bill just feels like it crosses a boundary. I don't like it. I do like the education idea. It just seems like there is alot of grey area when it comes to discipline. God forbid a good, well intentioned mama be seperated from her child for years because someone misread the situation.
Erin B October 04, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I admit I spank my children when it is necessary (which, thankfully, is seldom) and my parents spanked me, but we don't act out of anger or frustration. The goal is to teach my children to respect their parents, teachers and leaders, not to make them tremble with fear. As they are getting older, I can mostly give the kids the "mommy" look and they know they are nearing a line. The way the law is written, though sounds like not only is punishment to be addressed, but causing any pain!? This could be anything from brushing tangles out of hair to buying new shoes that rub blisters or forgetting to reapply sunscreen! Hopefully this won't stand up to the court system for long.
Caroline U October 04, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Great article Leigh. I live in Maryland but grew up in South Carolina in the 1980's when spanking was not seen as anything unusual or harmful. I personally don't like spanking as a form of discipline because there are always other better ways to teach. In Maryland, there are not laws against spanking, but if a child reports in school that they have been spanked (and they use that term),my understanding is that the teachers here are required by law to report that to social services. Because of this, there seems to be a lot of "closet spanking" Obviously, I don't mean parents are spanking in the closet, but they may be spanking and just not telling anyone they spank. So everyone here says, "NOooooooo, I don't spank!" when in fact they may. SO--that being said, I'm all about more laws to educate and help teach parents better ways--funding for free programs to teach parents and maybe even those programs could be offered in the schools. I am NOT, however for laws against parents spanking, as I think it will just continue to happen. A parent who spanks is not some horrible person (I mean, some probably are) but rather just a parent who doesn't yet have a complete understanding that there is a different approach.Just my opinion! More education is my vote. AWESOME article!!
thcooper69 November 22, 2012 at 12:21 PM
spanking shouldnt be illegal and its one of tha reason why juviniles act tha way THAY do in northern citys ,THERE parents dont disipline themb and THAY jus run amuck ,spraypaintn and vandalizin ,rapen and robbing ole ladys at bus stops .

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