Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 12:19 UK

NZ votes against child smack ban

Child on stairs (file image)
The law was seen as a step in lowering NZ's high child abuse rates

New Zealanders have voted by a wide margin in favour of allowing parents to smack their children, two years after a law banned discipline by force.

The legislation was brought in two years ago to try to lower the country's high rate of child abuse.

The referendum asked: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

The referendum is non-binding, and Prime Minister John Key has said he will not change the existing law.

Based on preliminary results, 54% of the voting population took part in the referendum, with nearly 90% responding No, the election commission said.

The United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, said in 2003 that New Zealand had the third-worst rate of child abuse and neglect of the OECD group of countries.

'Ambiguous question'

The vote was held following a campaign by opponents of the 2007 legislation, which removed a provision allowing parents "reasonable force" to discipline their children.

The legal change was to stop people using "parental discipline" as a defence against assault changes but allowed police wide latitude to not prosecute cases seen as trivial.

Opponents of the law said it would result in good parents being prosecuted.

Austria, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Referendum campaigner Larry Baldock said he was ecstatic at the vote's result and hoped it would send a strong message to the prime minister that the current law was not working.

"There are an incredible number of people all over the country tonight who will be feeling really great about what they helped bring about with their vote."

Many critics of the referendum, including the prime minister, said the question was loaded and ambiguous.

Mr Key, who did not cast a vote, said he would put some proposals on the issue to his cabinet on Monday.

"I think they will give New Zealand parents added comfort that the law is working," he said.

The issue has provoked heated debate in the country, but the postal vote - at a cost of $6.1m (£3.7m) - is considered by many to have been a waste of time and money.

New Zealand is one of six countries to have banned corporal punishment of children in 2007.

The first country to take the step was Sweden in 1979, followed by Finland in 1983 and Norway in 1987.

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