Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden says it’s “paramount” to keep children safe, but a new law he spearheaded will prevent – under threat of jail time – parents from giving junior a swat on the bottom hard enough to help him remember it’s not a good thing to poke a spoon handle into an electric outlet.
That’s because Biden’s new law, signed by Democratic Delaware Gov. Jack Markell Sept. 12, defines any “pain,” even from a loving swat, as “physical injury” and threatens parents with up to two years in jail for disciplining their children.
According to a statement from the Home School Legal Defense Association, which fought the proposal, the law previously permitted a parent to use force to punish a child for misconduct, but it held parents back from any action that caused – or was likely to cause – physical injury.
But now, by defining “physical injury” to include any “pain” a child reports feeling, spanking has become a crime in Delaware punishable by imprisonment.
HSLDA Special Counsel Dee Black’s statement said the move made Delaware “the first state in the nation to effectively outlaw corporal discipline of children by their parents.”
“A parent causing pain to a child who was 3 years of age or younger would be guilty of a class G felony and subject to two years in prison,” Black noted. “A parent causing ‘physical injury’ (e.g., pain) to a child under age 18 would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor and subject to one year in prison.”
The law itself leaves no doubt, stating, “‘Physical injury’ to a child shall mean any impairment of physical condition or pain.”
When he signed the law, Markell’s website said all parents who cause any pain in the course of disciplining their children now are “child abusers.”
“Creating a crime of child abuse will better tailor our laws to meet the needs of children, especially infants and toddlers as well as children with developmental disabilities,” Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, a Democrat, said in a statement.
“Our children rely on us to shield them from harm and hold those who hurt them accountable, and we continue to work together to live up to that expectation,” Markell said.
The problem for critics of the law is in the details. The law itself says “causing physical injury to a child will carry a maximum prison term of one year and a maximum fine of $3,200.”
But with a definition of “physical injury” that includes “pain,” opponents contend there are consequences for parents who wish to continue to use traditional methods of discipline.
See the governor in action:
“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.”
The Associated Press reported supporters insist the measure does not outlaw spanking or prohibit parents from “using reasonable and appropriate discipline.”
But HSLDA said it opposed the plan specifically because it would violate the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children “including the long-recognized right to administer reasonable corporal discipline.”
David Anderson, at DelewarePolitics.net, said, “Don’t spank, spank, it is none of my business or anyone else’s business.”
“I always noticed that the so-called studies that were against spanking included non-spanking activities with the fringe that brutalized children. They take some child hit upside their arm with a bat while protecting their head and include them in a sample with one slapped on the rear with a paddle and pretended it was the same thing.
“In fact,” he continued, “my progressive friends with their permissive ways may be the ones harming their children.”
“You don’t reason out with a two-year-old that you don’t touch the stove in the moment. You slap their hands and then tell them why,” he continued.
He said in his view while spanking “has not been outlawed in the state of Delaware … I think the right has been compromised, and I would urge you to be more circumspect.”