Spanking a child under four years of age in the US could land parents in jail under a measure to be proposed by a California lawmaker.
Sally Lieber, the Bay Area assembly member who said she will introduce a bill that will make it illegal for parents to spank their children, has unleashed an intense public debate, with some describing it "progressive" and "inevitable" and others calling it "insanity taking control".
The Bay Area Democrat wants to make it a crime for anyone to spank young children, a misdemeanour punishable by upto a year in jail or $1,000 fine. The measure would ban hitting, punching, smacking, kicking, slapping and spanking.
"Under current law, parents can beat their children to a reasonable degree. I just think that that's plain wrong and we ought to ban any sort of physical attack on children who are not old enough to defend themselves," Leiber said.
"This bill is absolutely not big mother government coming in to tell parents what to do," Lieber said. "But it is creating a line in the law that stands on the side of very young children. Children that are 3-years-old or younger are really sitting ducks for physical punishment, and they're no match with the speed or size or force of an adult who's beating them."
If the bill passes and is signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would make California the first in the nation to have a no-spanking law.
"We have a society that has really become addicted to violence, and I think that training children at a very young age in that is absolutely the wrong thing to do," Lieber said.
Opponents said the government shouldn't tell adults how to be parents. As one member of the public stated "A lot of us probably received swats when we were around 3-years-old, keeping us from harms way. But today's law enforcement zealots believe we are incapable of raising our kids unless the state is holding our hands. No wonder people are no longer having children."
"As a father of three, I'm afraid they're going to make me a felon," said Republican Assembly member Michael Villines, adding that the government had no business telling parents how to discipline their children.
"Child abuse is wrong period," Villines said. "But there is a balance, and the government doesn't need to get in the middle of it. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to teach (children), and you always do it in a loving way," Villines said.
The Early Childhood Lab at the University of California in Davis has been studying infant and toddler development since 1963. Their research shows young kids do imitate their parents and that spanking only works to stop bad behavior at that moment.