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Redefining Child Abuse

September 14, 1987

The article, "Controversy Grows as Bill Redefining Child Abuse Progresses" by Lois Timnick (Part I, Aug. 30) suggests that it will become more difficult to protect children from abusive parents if Senate Bill 243 becomes law. Specifically, the controversy centers around the paragraph which sanctions spanking as a means of discipline.

The new code would address the problem of whether a child is at "substantial risk" of suffering "serious physical harm" by a parent or guardian.

I see no mention of serious emotional harm. Obviously emotional problems are so much more difficult to diagnose, especially in the early stages.

There is data that says hitting children is harmful to their health.

The bill goes on to say that "serious physical harm" does not include reasonable and age-appropriate spanking. Will that mean no spanking during the first year? One spank which raises a welt one-eighth inch during the second year? Two spanks during the third year which raises a welt one- quarter inch? And when does spanking turn into slapping and swatting?

Why open the gate to abuse at all? Why have the state sanction hitting a child at all? Why not say no to all forms of child abuse including spanking? We ask our kids to say no to drugs. Why not ask parents to say no to hitting kids? Everyone in the state Legislature should be required to read Dr. Bruno Bettelheims latest book, "A Good Enough Parent," where he says that all forms of punishment are absolutely wrong. He is no longer alone with this point of view.

It's hard to believe that this issue is becoming a political football. All because parents vote and kids can't vote. All the psychologists and pediatricians in the world don't add up politically.

Unfortunately most parents still believe that they have an absolute right to hit their child.

The state should at least show its intent by not aiding and abetting such destructive behavior. They now become an accessory to the crime. The intent by the state should be to help parents through some form of educational and parental training programs rather than imposing criminal penalties.

If we don't allow adults to hit each other without facing the consequences, why do we allow adults to hit children?

It's time someone came up with a children's bill of rights. It seems that our Founding Fathers (slave owners themselves) didn't have children in mind when they wrote the first ten amendments.


La Palma

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