Speech to Māori MPs: Our tamariki should not be hit

April 28, 2009

Presentation to Māori MPs on Section 59
8 April 09
[edited]

Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati

Ko Tainui te waka
Ko Taupiri te maunga
Ko Waikato te iwi
Ko Ngati Mahunga te hapu
Ko Whati Tamati tupuna tane
Ko Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati ahau

I am employed by Save the Children as the New Zealand Programme Manager.

Introduction

My personal convictions for working in child advocacy and in advocating against physical punishment of children and promoting related law change is heavily influenced by my early life experience. When I was 18 months old and my brother was 3years old we were separated from our birth whanau and fostered into a Pakeha whanau. I remember the first encounters with my new parents at the transition home. I remember at that age of longing for adults who would care for, and nurture me and I bonded straight away to my `new mother’. My brother on the other-hand did not trust adults and especially women. I later learnt why. Both my brother and I lived with our new parents until my brother, who was six years old, was put into a residential home. This was supposed to a temporary stay however the residential caregivers fought to keep my brother and succeeded and eventually adopted him. When my brother was 16 they immigrated to Australia. My brother didn’t want to go. He hasn’t heard from them since.

My brother was put into temporary care because my mother at the time had just given birth to my brother through adoption and couldn’t cope with my birth brothers behaviour who used to kick her and scream and hide under the house and cower when my mother tried approaching him.

I later learnt that my brother, before we were fostered out, had been beaten severely including having broken bones, cigarette burns and scaring. I too had experienced this abuse however not too the same extent.

Research confirms that the first 3 years of a child’s life are the most important as at birth only 15% of the brain is developed. Most of the brain’s development occurs before a child is 3 years old and when a child’s emotional patterns and response pathways are established. The foundations for physical and mental health, language and learning, and socialisation are all established in those early years.

I was fortunate in that in half of those formative years I was raised in a nurturing environment. It is clear that my birth parents that both died before we had an opportunity to get to know them needed help. It was also clear my brother needed help and my foster mother did too in understanding how to relate to and support him. My brothers’ early life experiences have had a profound detrimental effect on him. My brother has tried to commit suicide and his children, whom he loves dearly, are in the care of his sister-in-law while he and his partner work through drug and alcohol issues and abuse within their relationship.

My brother and I met our birth whanau when I was 21. My older sister, whom I had just met, took me to see a woman who was extremely beaten. I tried to get her to get help and begged her and her sister to take action. 3 months later my other brother was convicted of murder for killing her. Years later a cousin of mine disclosed that he too was beaten badly by members of our whanau when I was trying to come to terms with why my brother would do such an act. She said “I just think of him as a little boy. I remember at the marae he was always getting a hit. He would run away and try and hide. They were horrible to him.” It is true that being abused as a child doesn’t mean that you will later abuse as an adult however being abused as a child is a risk factor for repeating that behaviour in later life.

One of my aunties shared with me recently the regret she feels when she recalls the times when she felt she fell short of her parenting role. Today my aunty who I am very fond of, has her moko, son and daughter-in-law living with her and she is proud that they raise her moko without violence and that she is teaching her moko Te Reo.

In my whanau I am proud to say that beating tamariki is no longer acceptable and I do have cousins that have been raised through nurturing and not violence.

Unfortunately for both my brothers and their partners and their children, they all bear the scars of being hurt by those who were meant to love, care and nurture them.

I know the abuse that my brothers experienced is at the high end of child abuse however research shows that physical punishment is a risk factor for child abuse. More importantly though is that both behaviours are predicated on a core belief that `It is ok to hit children.

Child abuse and severe physical punishment is more likely to occur less in a society and whanau where by `hitting children’ is not the norm and is not tolerated.

Having child advocates in the whanau who encourage alternatives to smacking is important in changing the norm of hitting children.

Naida Glavish, Chairperson, Te Rununga o Ngati Whatua, stated at the launch of the book ‘Unreasonable Force’:

“Our mokopuna carry the wairua of our ancestors and should for that reason alone not be hit. I for one will ensure that not one of my mokopuna will be hit”.

In 2007, thanks to a Bill introduced by Sue Bradford, and with the vast support of a overwhelmingly majority of MPs (113 out of 121), hitting children was outlawed. Now technically speaking it is illegal to use force for the purpose of correction. The law is clear in its intent to allow children to live free from violence.

The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 repealed the statutory defence of reasonable force for correction that had for so long been regarded as permission for parents to hit their children.

There is provision in the Act for parents to hold, restrain or pick up children e.g. keep them safe from running onto the road and that such restraint needs to be reasonable. There is another provision in the law that allows Police to use their discretion not to prosecute adults who assault children if they think the assault is of a minor nature.

Police statistics show they are exercising that discretion. They are only prosecuting cases of serious violence, or where there are prior whanau violence convictions because everything points to children being at greater risk when there is a history of whanau violence.

The previous Government chose to accept the clear rationale for the need for the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act. That being:

  • hitting children is harmful – research shows there are many negative effects of children experiencing physical discipline
  • hitting children is not effective discipline
  • physical discipline is known as a risk factor for abuse
  • some parents were acquitted under the old Section 59 for serious acts of abuse against their children e.g. a women who whipped her child with a riding crop 3 or 4 times and beat him with a bamboo cane 4 or 5 times;
  • the existence of a statutory defence for corporal punishment is inconsistent with international law (UNCROC), and with public education aimed at positive non-violent parenting such as SKIP.

Before and even after the Repeal of Section 59 there has been a well funded campaign for parents right to hit their children for the purpose of correction.

Opponents of the law argue that:

  • parents have a right to discipline their children as they see fit.
  • use of physical force e.g. `hitting’ in a reasonable way is a valid and useful form of discipline
  • the new law will criminalise parents and that `good’ parents are being unfairly investigated.

Each one of their arguments can be strongly refuted. There is insurmountable evidence demonstrating that physical discipline is both harmful and ineffective.

Furthermore, the law is being monitored and is working well as intended. A review is planned for late in 2009 or early 2010.

Police half-yearly reports have consistently shown that complaints for minor assaults on children have not increased substantially since the law changed and there have been very few prosecutions for assaults of a minor nature.

Throughout the child discipline debate in 2007, we saw evidence of the themes that actively support abusive behaviours towards children and create barriers to the prevention of child abuse. These themes are:

  • a view of children as the property of parents;
  • parents having rights over children; and
  • a prevalence of attitudes that actively support the rights of parents and nominated others to hit or assault children as part of a regime of physical punishment.

Elizabeth Gershoff in a review and meta-analysis of the research literature on corporal punishment summarises the findings:

Ten of the 11 meta-analyses indicate parental corporal punishment is associated with the following undesirable behaviours and experiences:

  • decreased moral internalisation (not learning lessons well),
  • increased child aggression,
  • increased child delinquent and antisocial behaviour,
  • decreased quality of relationship between parents and child,
  • increased child mental health,
  • increased risk of being a victim of physical abuse,
  • increased adult aggression,
  • increased adult criminal and antisocial behaviour,
  • decreased adult mental health,
  • and increased risk of abusing own child or spouse.

Corporal punishment was associated with only one desirable behaviour:

  • increased immediate compliance.

Most parents and caregivers want their children to grow into well-adjusted, responsible adults. Hitting children does not support this long-term outcome. When we hit a child we lose an opportunity to teach them well.

Opponents of the new law did manage to convince 10 percent of the voting public to force the referendum associated with the law reform. The referendum will be held by postal ballot in July – August this year, will cost approximately $10 million and is non-binding.

The question that the voting public will be asked to vote on is:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

This question is intentionally ambiguous, confusing and designed to generate opposition to the law. The question implies that smacking is a good form of child discipline and that good parents who smack will be criminalised.

We know that this is untrue and that smacking is not a good form of parental correction and no parents have been convicted for inconsequential smacks.

There are more fundamental and vital questions that need to be asked, for example:

  • How do we promote connectedness, collective responsibility; the right for every child to thrive, be well, be loved, to be safe and to reach their potential?
  • What is needed for parents to be able to be great parents?
  • How do we value our elders, our aunts and our uncles, in their responsibilities to nurture the tamariki and rangatahi within their whanau?
  • How do we protect those who are most vulnerable?

As part of the Campaign for Action on Whanau Violence, a literature review has shown there are six things needed to reduce the chances of child maltreatment (physical and psychological):

  • Establishing a positive ideology of children
  • Addressing beliefs about the physical punishment of children
  • Reducing adult partner violence
  • Addressing alcohol and drug abuse
  • Creating support systems that parents are willing and able to engage with, and
  • Providing parent education and skills.

As Tariana Turia said in her speech for the Symposium on Violence Prevention on 3 April that

‘The answer is already with us – in our families; in our whanau.’ `Hope lies in the healing and educating of our families. It comes from a policy approach which values the whanau; and supports violence free homes. It is nurtured in the kaupapa of whanaungatanga – the enormous potential that the extended whanau provides to support one another.’

The law change is a critical component of the strategy to change attitudes about the use of physical punishment. Another component of change is information and education.

Information and support for Maori parents on positive discipline and interventions aimed and supporting whanau and hapu to be violence-free, strong and nurturing is especially important.

In recent months there has been an increase in notifications to CYFS. Many of these notifications are children who have witnessed whanau violence and are therefore traumatised and at risk.

We need to continue to support programmes that promote non-violent parenting that are proven to be effective such as Project Mauri Ora that and empowers and skills families to recognise violence; to find solutions drawing on their own iwi traditions and experiences and work collectively on transforming their whanau, SKIP, Family Start, and community led intervention programmes.

Perhaps a social marketing television campaign that’s educates parents about the harmful effects of smacking and alternative positive forms of parenting may also be what’s needed. Positive parenting is easy and effective when parents are used to parenting that way. We need to show parents how!

Children have an innate desire to be loved by and to please their parents and the vast majority of parents have an innate desire to provide what the very best for their children. Many parents in this country simply lack the wherewithal, whether than is financial or support by way of services.

We know that environments of deprivation increase the risk of child abuse and therefore we need to address the macro issues that are risk factors for child abuse and maltreatment for example, poverty and deprivation. Drug and alcohol abuse are important factors too.

While one-fifth of New Zealanders overall live in the most deprived areas of the country, where victimisation rates are higher, almost half of Māori do.

To change the social norms about the use of violence, including hitting within our whanau require a sustained, multifaceted all of community and Government approach. We need those in leadership positions to prioritise children and their whanau and the care-giving roles they play.

Thank you for giving us time to present to you and particularly that you are all very busy. I also humbly acknowledge and thank you for the enormous commitment and dedication each one of you has and continues to contribute to advancing the interests and wellbeing of our tamariki and our people. I conclude the presentation with a message from Naida Glavish, the Chairperson of Te Rununga o Ngati Whatua:

Our tamariki mokupuna carry the divine imprint of our tupuna (ancestors), drawing from the sacred wellspring of life. As iwi we share responsibility for the well being of our whanau and tamariki mokopuna. Hitting and physical force within whanau is a violation of the mana (prestige, power) and tapu (sacredness) of those that hit and those that are hit.

Naida Glavish JP, Chairperson Te Runanga o Ngati Whatua.

We ask that you will continue to strongly proclaim that our tamariki should not be hit and raised without violence and we ask that you counter any misinformation about the law.

Tena tatou katoa

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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