Archive for March, 2009

Video: Parenting for a Peaceful World

March 31, 2009

Parenting for a Peaceful World

Robin Grille, author of “Parenting for a Peaceful World”, and also “Heart to Heart Parenting” shares some profound information about children and parenting practices around the world and throughout history. Narrated by Aja Swafford, created by Jacob Devaney for, and written by Robin Grille.

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Hitting – not part of our future: Families Commissioner

March 29, 2009

By Jan Pryor
Chief Commissioner
Families Commission
29 March 2009

A year and a half after New Zealand’s child discipline law was changed, it’s clear more needs to be done to allay fears and encourage parents to raise their children without raising their hands.

In fact, the law is working well and is achieving what was intended. Parents who are charged with assaulting a child can no longer defend themselves in court by claiming they were using reasonable force to discipline the child.

The law change did not introduce any new criminal offence. The offence was, and always has been one of assault; and police continue to investigate allegations of assault on children and prosecute only those where they believe the assault is serious enough to take to court.

Police say that since the law was introduced there has been no significant increase in the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions or other activity related to smacking or minor physical assaults against children.

It was quite disturbing to recently hear parents on talk back radio say that now that they ‘couldn’t smack’ they were forcing their children to eat soap, mustard or even chilli. Or, they screamed and yelled at their children to get their attention. How can this help a child learn to behave?

It’s very difficult to understand why parents would want to use these sorts of strategies when positive parenting techniques are so much more rewarding and effective. A phone call to any family agency such as Barnardos, Plunket, or a search on Google will point them to information on positive parenting.

The Families Commission is one of many organisations who supported the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act.

Healthy, positive relationships within families do not involve people hitting each other and the Commission continues to believe that repeal was one step that, combined with other nationwide efforts to address violence, will help us become a violence-free society.

We based our position on research which shows very clearly that positive parenting strategies (such as rewarding good behaviour and distracting young children and ignoring minor unwanted behaviour) are far more effective and safer.

Research shows that most child abuse cases begin as physical punishment. There are risks that smacking can escalate to abuse – and the harder a child is hit, the more damaging it is for their future wellbeing. Hitting children also models violence as a way of resolving conflict.

The best and most effective parenting practices do not use physical punishment and positive strategies are better at helping children to learn self discipline and to behave well in the long term.

One of the objectives of law reform was to make the law congruent with positive non-violent parenting messages and the new law now clearly states that there is no legal justification for the use of force to correct a child’s behaviour.

This is a direct message to parents encouraging them to use strategies for managing their child’s behaviour that do not include smacking or hitting.

More and more parents are learning these skills through the government’s SKIP (Strategies for Kids Information for Parents) leaflets and parenting courses, or through other similar programmes offered by various non-government agencies.

A Ministry of Health Survey in mid 2007 showed that only 1 in 22 parents considered physical punishment to be effective. Of the parents who had actually used physical punishment in the previous four weeks only one in three considered it to be effective.

We are now at the point where another recent survey on behalf of the Office of the Children’s Commission has shown that 43 percent of people support the new law.

However, some of this progress could be undermined by the citizens initiated postal referendum being held in the middle of the year on the question, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Should anyone be hit as a way to change their behaviour – let alone a small child? Should employers be able to smack employees? Should coaches hit team members when they do something to let down the team? Why should it be OK to hit children – who are so much smaller and vulnerable?

We suspect many people may chose not to vote in the referendum because they can’t agree or disagree with the question – or simply because it’s no longer an issue for them

We need more public education about the law and continued investment in positive parenting programmes.

As parents, we all want to raise our children to be happy well adjusted adults. We all want to be great parents. However, it’s not always easy and not something we can always do just by instinct.

The best parents are those who aren’t afraid to seek help and advice. Finding out about new and effective ways to raise our children is a sign of strength not an admission of failure.

No More Thrashings – The Nelson Mail

March 24, 2009

Although the reform of the child discipline law was supported by both National and Labour in May 2007 it remains unpopular with a large proportion of New Zealanders, The Nelson Mail said in an editorial on Tuesday [24 March 2009].

Surveys have shown greater than 80 per cent disapproval of what has become known as the “anti-smacking law”.

Last year a petition with 390,000 signatures was presented to Parliament, forcing a citizens’ initiated referendum which will be held by postal ballot in August and ask the somewhat loaded question: Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

Meanwhile ACT MP John Boscawen is planning a private member’s bill which would allow parents to use “reasonable force” to discipline their children within clearly defined limits.

Plainly the issue is not dead – but it should be. The repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act went ahead on a 113-8 vote.

Now, almost two years down the track, it is clear that good parents are not falling foul of this progressive and sensible legislation which removed the right to thrash children but doesn’t require police to prosecute when very minor assaults occur.

The essential point is that children now have the same protection against assault as adults – and that’s as it should be.

Mr Boscawen’s bill would attempt to lessen the rights of children and should be opposed for that reason.

The wording of the referendum means that it will almost certainly receive a lot of support – but that doesn’t mean that the law should be revisited.

The right decision has been made and it is to be hoped that the Government has the gumption to stick with it.

Child smack battle returns – Waikato Times

March 23, 2009

From the Waikato Times, 23 March 2009
By Natalie Akoorie

Two Hamilton-based child advocacy groups are adding their weight to a coalition of child welfare agencies preparing for a war of words with supporters of a referendum to change the controversial “anti-smacking” law.

The debate over the 2007 law, which removed the defence of “reasonable force” in the physical punishment of children, has reignited ahead of the August referendum.

Child Protection Studies chief executive Anthea Simcock and Parentline chairwoman Margaret Evans say both Hamilton organisations support Barnardos, Save the Children, Plunket, Childspace and other groups in countering what they say is misinformation about the repeal of Section 59.

“There is always going to be debate but at the end of the day if we can keep some children safe by changing adults’ attitudes towards violence then that’s worth doing,” Mrs Simcock said.

The coalition is shaping up against lobby group Family First and others championing the referendum on whether smacking should be a criminal offence.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said polls consistently showed the public was against the smacking ban, and the Government could drop the referendum estimated to cost up to $8 million.

“National and Act could change the law right here and now and that’s what they should do, because that’s what the country’s demanding.”

Family First did not want a return to the law as it was previously, but rather one that allowed light smacking. But Mrs Simcock said this would be a return to the previous law which in one high-profile case allowed a father to get away with hitting his child with a piece of wood.

“What is ‘light smacking’? It’s a bit like a little bit of speeding.”

She said the new law would take a while to “bed in” but she believed it had already begun to change attitudes. “It’s making parents think twice before they just lash out.”

The referendum is to be held by postal ballot.

Getting the law straight – what does it mean?

March 19, 2009

By Amy Williams, via Yahoo Xtra News

In August this year New Zealanders have the power to change the law, when a referendum will be held to decide whether the so-called “anti-smacking law” should be repealed. But how many of us know what the law actually stands for?

I know I didn’t – and yet two years ago when Sue Bradford’s bill was making its way through Parliament I voted against it in an informal poll, without even reading up on what it stood for. The term “anti-smacking law” was what made up my mind. I mean, I was smacked as a child and I’m okay. It probably saved my life at least once as I was prone to running off into traffic. So how could I be anti-smacking?

But then I did a little research into what the repeal of Section 59 was all about and realised I’d been misled by the whole “anti-smacking” angle.

Now, even with the referendum looming, ACT MP John Boscawen is drafting his own member’s bill to change the Act, claiming it’s stopping parents from disciplining their children in its current form.

And yesterday lobby group Family First revealed the results of a survey they commissioned, in which parents were asked if they thought the new law made it always illegal for parents to give their children a light smack.

Fifty-five percent thought it was illegal, 31 percent thought it wasn’t, and 14 percent didn’t know. (In case you were wondering, the 31 percent were right.)

I believe the reason so many people were (and are) against the repeal of Section 59 is that it has been misrepresented as the “anti-smacking law”. That’s not what it’s about at all.

This name was perpetuated by opposing politicians, by the media (mainly through laziness – it’s easier and ‘sexier’ to use in a headline than its proper name) and by lobby groups such as Family First and the Sensible Sentencing Trust. But it’s a misnomer.

So let’s take a look at what all the fuss is about.

Section 59 of the Crimes Act used to state that a parent or parent figure was justified in using force to discipline a child as long as it was “reasonable” force. Except there was no clue as to what constituted reasonable force – that was up to a jury to decide.

The law as it stood meant children did not have the same legal protection from assault as adults. Surely most of us would agree that children need more protection than adults, rather than less?

And this legal defence wasn’t just sitting around gathering dust – it was being used by abusive parents to justify beating their children. In the years before the section was repealed, the following two cases relied on it to result in not guilty verdicts:

Firstly, in Napier there was a case where a father hit his eight year old son eight times with a piece of wood, leaving bruising that was visible for days. The jury decided this was reasonable force.

In another case in Hamilton, a father hit his 12 year old daughter with a piece of hosepipe, leaving a raised 15cm-long lump with red edges on her back. Again, this was deemed okay because it was all in the name of parental discipline. Still think the repeal was pointless?

The bill was eventually passed into law in May 2007, with 113 out of 121 members of Parliament voting in its favour. You can have a read of the law as it stands here.

So why are people still whinging that the law is somehow restricting them? Unless you are an abusive parent, you should have nothing to worry about.

But for some reason, the general public perception is still that it’s all “PC nonsense” by “left-wing nutters”. If standing against child abuse makes me a nutter, I’m proud to wear that label.

The problem seems to be that everyone is worried that they’re going to be sent to jail for giving their toddler a light smack – but is that the case?

Part of the repeal included the addition of the following clause: “To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child… in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.”

So are parents being victimised by the new law? In February last year John Key told National Radio “he had no evidence to support the notion that good parents were being criminalised for a trivial offence”.

After the law had been in operation for six months, police reported that out of 288 child assault events attended, “all of the 13 cases involving smacking and 65 of the 69 minor acts of physical discipline were determined to be inconsequential and therefore not in the public interest to prosecute.”

And if we look overseas, in Europe, “ten countries have changed laws so that no physical punishment of children is allowed. In these countries there is no evidence at all that police prosecute for this kind of minor assault”.

There have, of course, been some high profile cases which could be used as benchmarks for how it will be interpreted. A number of cases have gone before the courts without resulting in conviction, while others have yet to be heard.

Family First claims to exist to “defend the family” – yet it continues to fight against a law that protects children’s rights. The Sensible Sentencing Trust supposedly stands for “a safe, crime free New Zealand” – and yet it, too, believes this excuse to abuse should stay in place.

Please, can someone explain to me how that makes sense?

Family First’s Director Bob McCoskrie claims his survey shows how harmful the law repeal is – because it’s confusing parents. “It is this confusion that is causing huge harm,” he says.

I agree there is confusion about the law. But that’s not a good enough to reason to get rid of it. If confusion exists, how about a concerted effort by both government and lobby groups to educate all New Zealanders about what the law entails and where the boundaries lie?

It does seem like we should have had that from the start – it could have saved a lot of pointless, circular arguments on both sides. The Government should have put out pamphlets, taken out TV and newspaper ads, set out exactly what is and isn’t okay.

One of the arguments against Sue Bradford’s bill that I’ve heard several times is this: when we have cases of horrific child abuse happening in New Zealand (Nia Glassie, for example), why should the police spend time investigating complaints over parental discipline?

Quite simply, the bill was never intended to solve the giant, complicated problem of child abuse in New Zealand. It exists to close the loophole that gave adults a legal defence to beat their children – nothing more. And yet it’s provoked national outrage.

When referendum time rolls around, I hope people will be ticking boxes based on a sound knowledge of what the law actually says, instead of having a knee-jerk reaction to that emotive phrase, “anti-smacking”.

You can find out more about Section 59 and cases where parents have been prosecuted under the new law here.

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

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