In September 2009 the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and Sweden’s Save the Children published Never Violence – Thirty Years on from Sweden’s Abolition of Corporal Punishment, 2009. The report briefly outlines the background of the ban, reports on trends since the 1979 law change and corrects claims made by opponents.
Trends reflect the decline in support for physical punishment in Sweden:
in the 1960s, over 50% of children had been ‘smacked’ once or several times per year
by 2000, only around 10% were smacked
about 9% of parents still believe in using cp
there has been a sharp decline in punishment by punching and using implements
The report also contradicts claims made by opponents in Sweden and elsewhere:
the percentage of reported assaults on children that are prosecuted has not increased
increased reports of suspected assaults reflect public awareness- not more assaults
youth crimes of theft and property damage have decreased, not increased
violent crime rates have stayed relatively constant, not increased
there is no indication of increased criminality among young people.
Terry Dobbs wrote an insightful piece in today’s Herald, discussing the results of her research and its implications for improving behaviour outcomes for our children. Here are some excerpts:
Proponents of smacking argue it is not child abuse and that smacking and child abuse are not related issues. They claim that physical punishment is only used as a last resort, that smacking is lightly administered and harmless and should be used when a parent is calm and loving.
But how real is this – what do children tell us? In 2005, as part of her Master’s thesis at Otago University, she interviewed 80 children aged between 5 and 14 years old about their experiences and understanding of family discipline. They were from ordinary New Zealand households with no history of child abuse or neglect.
Some 91 per cent of children in the study said they had been physically punished.
Adults may define a smack as something a lot gentler than a hit, but children were clear that a smack is a hard hit that hurts both emotionally and physically.
Fear and pain may sometimes achieve short-term obedience, but in the long term these emotions are unlikely to contribute to positive behavioural outcomes or promote children’s effective learning.
Many of the children believed smacking did not work as a disciplinary tool. They said that the use of time out, having privileges removed or being grounded were far more effective means of discipline.
The children’s responses render many adults’ claims and justifications highly suspect. It is also concerning that quite large numbers of children reported adult behaviour that was in fact abusive.
[Progressing to more effective discipline techniques means] moving on from a number of deeply held and understandable attitudes and emotions – coming to terms with the fact that your own loving parents hit you (they knew no better), that you may have harmed your child’s development (it’s never too late to change that) and that the law can be regarded as a positive move for children rather than an unwelcome imposition on adults.
Our 2007 child discipline law is only two years old – let’s give it time to help New Zealand grow happy, healthy children.
Jigsaw Family Services is urging New Zealanders to put themselves in children’s shoes over the so-called smacking referendum.
“What would our children do if they were allowed to vote? Would they ask to be smacked because they thought it was good for them?” says Liz Kinley, Jigsaw’s CEO (Strategic Operations).
Jigsaw’s network of 34 community agencies employs about 500 staff to stop child abuse and family violence.
“Because children don’t have a voice in the debate it’s up to child-centred agencies to speak out on their behalf. Children are telling us they’re confused when people they love and trust hit them.
“It makes them resentful rather than relaxed and confident. And it teaches them that hitting is an acceptable way of expressing anger or disapproval.”
The controversy around the ambiguous wording of the referendum question should not deter voters from affirming the existing legislation by voting “yes”.
Liz Kinley says a “yes” vote is a vote for our children. It reinforces their right to have the same legal protection as adults.
“We don’t want parents to end up in court for a light smack and because the law gives police discretion over prosecutions that isn’t happening.
“Parents want to do the best job they can. They may have been whacked as children. They know it doesn’t work and want to treat their own children differently.”
Jigsaw’s agencies are committed to helping families find better ways to nurture and discipline children.
“The demand for our parenting programmes shows New Zealand is moving to a place where hitting children isn’t tolerated. Two decades ago we made the transition in our schools. So why not in our own homes?” says Liz Kinley.
Contact: Liz Kinley, Jigsaw CEO (Strategic Operations), 04 385 7983 / 027 2303312 or Shona Geary, Media Adviser, 027 573 1125
Druis Barrett resigned from The Families Commission today in protest at Christine Rankin’s appointment.
In an excellent interview on today’s Morning Report (listen below), she says “I wouldn’t go as far as to say that [Christine Rankin] was racist, but she’s damn well close to it”. In the same interview, Hone Kaa agrees with her, saying that Rankin’s comments were unhelpful.
The Herald reports that Rankin’s comment that so upset Barrett was “Maori whanau don’t look after their own, and that [they] should be responsible for the many children that are at risk and have been killed”, implying that Māori were doing nothing about the problem.
In fact, groups like Te Kahui Mana Ririki, Save The Children, Barnardos and Plunket have been running Māori led programs to attack these problems for years.
Insights [download PDF] is a Save the Children commissioned study into children’s perspectives on family discipline. The findings of the study, conducted by child advocate Terry Dobbs, show an alarming rate of physical punishment used in ordinary Kiwi families and supports the current Child Discipline Law. The research was launched in 27 September 2005 prior to the law reform that made New Zealand the first English speaking country in the world to have banned the physical punishment of children. The findings published in Insights are still very relevant today – and send a strong message to parents that physical punishment does not work.
More than nine out of ten (92%) of the 80 children aged between five and 14 years interviewed for the study said they had been or that they believed children were smacked. Some reported being hit around the face and/or head and with implements and many described it as the first line of discipline the parent used, rather than a last resort. They reported parents were often angry or stressed when they smacked– and would later express regret or offer ‘treats’ to compensate. Children said smacking made them feel angry, upset and fearful – and was not an effective form of discipline.
“The information contained in this study is crucial for every parent and caregiver of children in New Zealand,” Save the Children New Zealand executive director Phil Abraham says.
“Children’s voices are often missing from the debate around family discipline and effective parenting. The level of physical punishment reported in the study is shocking and delivers crucial information for the debate around the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961. Children need to be listened to in discussions about issues that affect them. They have some important messages which challenge the assumptions of many parents out there”.
The study also found children were more often hit by fathers and male members of the household and were more often physically punished for hurting others.
“This sends a contradictory message to children,” Terry Dobbs says. “Children are told that it is wrong to hurt someone else and yet they are hurt in response to hurting others, this is a confusing message for children”
Children suggested that parents should stop being angry, and talk to children explaining what the child had done wrong before administrating any family discipline, as this would have better outcomes for both children and parents. They said that talking with children about the rules the child had broken would assist the child’s understanding, rather than using physical punishment, which did not. They said using ‘time-out’, having privileges removed or being grounded were more effective means of discipline.
The research formed the basis of Ms Dobbs’s thesis for her Master of Arts in Childhood and Youth Studies, supervised by Otago University’s Children’s Issues Centre.
The children were chosen from 10 different schools – ranging from decile one to 10 – across five geographical locations in New Zealand.
To fit the criteria for the study, the children had to have no known or alleged history of abuse or neglect and sufficient verbal skills to participate in focus group discussions. They were questioned using a storybook methodology about their experiences and understanding of family discipline and their views of the effects of various disciplinary techniques.
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.
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.
Yesvote.org.nz has been live less than two weeks now, but we’ve already managed to attract a fantastic list of supporters.
The list includes NGO’s, health care providers, blogs, professional organisations, private companies, religious organisations, concerned individuals, and others.
We update our list regularly, and we’d love you to register yourself and/or your organisation on our supporters page.
The striking thing about this list is that it is mainly composed of people who have to deal with the consequences of physical punishment, and thus have an interest in doing whatever they can to prevent it. These are the ambulances at the bottom of the cliff who have built a fence at the top, and don’t want to see it torn down.
We’re interested in your own views and/or stories from your organisations that we can publish on yesvote.org.nz. If you’d like to submit an item for publication, please contact us.
We’d also appreciate it if you linked to yesvote.org.nz from your own web sites and blogs – let’s get the word out as widely as possible among the best support group ever.
So far, the following organisations have recently registered their support for The Yes Vote Campaign 2009:
Thought should be given to challenging, by way of judicial review, the wording of the question to be put to New Zealanders in a referendum later this year, according to Wellington consultant and child rights expert Robert Ludbrook.
The referendum question is: Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
“It will be immediately obvious that the question is questionable,” Robert Ludbrook says.
“The words ‘a smack as part of good parental correction’ are objectionable for several reasons. These are:
The word ‘good’ before ‘parental correction’ makes a value judgment which predetermines the answer. People answering the question will be drawn to answer ‘no’ on the basis that what is ‘good’ cannot be ‘bad’ (that is, criminal). It would be absurd to answer ‘yes’ because it would saying that an action which is good should be a criminal offence.
The question as framed is tautologous (OED: a statement that is true of necessity or by its logical form).
The word ‘good’ in terms of physical punishment is often used to mean ‘severe’: for example, ‘a good hiding’ or ‘six of the best’.
The term ‘parental correction’ is confusing in the context of the question. Because ‘force by way of correction’ was used in the old s59, it is often used as meaning ‘correction by the use of force’ or physical punishment. To speak of a ‘smack as part of parental correction’ is repetitious and circular.
“How is it that an estimated $10 million of government funds will be spent on a one-off referendum asking a question that is badly drafted and heavily weighted towards a particular answer?
“The answer lies in the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. Under the act, the wording for the question is determined by the Clerk of the House before signatures are collected for the petition. Section 10(1) sets the criteria for the question posed in the referendum. These criteria require that:
(1) The wording of the precise question to be put to the voters, as determined under s11 of this act by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, (a) Shall be such as to convey clearly the purpose and effect of the indicative referendum; and (b) Shall be such as to ensure that only one of two answers may be given to the question.
“It will be noted that there is no obligation placed on the Clerk of the House to ensure that the question put is balanced or framed in a neutral way.
“It is arguable that the question to be put fails to convey clearly the purpose and effect of the indicative referendum and thought perhaps should be given to challenging the wording by means of judicial review,” Robert Ludbrook says.
“Groups promoting the referendum want politicians to revisit the law and reintroduce a statutory defence.
“The new s59 already provides for a review by Parliament after the amendment has been in force for two years. After 2 July 2009, the chief executive of Child, Youth and Family must provide a report on the effects of the amendment to the Minister of Social Development and this report must be presented to Parliament as soon as practicable [see s59(7)]. As the law change is to be reviewed anyway later this year the referendum seems pointless.
“While citizen’s initiated referenda may be promoted as giving ordinary people a say on important public issues, two points need to be made.
“The first is that although the referendum is about children and their right to be protected from physical assaults, children do not get to vote on the question.
“The second is that it is impossible to condense a complex issue such the acceptability of smacking and hitting children into a question containing 17 words. The question should more correctly have been posed differently.”
Two possible examples of wordings, both having the advantage of clarity and neutrality, would be:
Should children be entitled to the same protection from physical assaults as everyone else enjoys?
Should the law allow parents and carers to hit or smack children when they misbehave?
“The law is an important symbol and the new s59 sends a clear message that assaulting children is unlawful.
“The referendum is an opportunity for those who believe that children deserve special protection from parental assaults to express their views by answering ‘yes’ to the question.
“A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for the current law,” Robert Ludbrook says.
If you are going to use or distribute material from our campaign in any way, eg remixed or mashed up, please ensure that your actions are compliant with the relevant legislation, as the Yes Vote Coalition cannot take responsibility for actions beyond our control or knowledge.
The bottom line is that we want to play by the rules. We appreciate your support, but please act ethically, thoughtfully, and within the law.