Barbara Lambourn: Why I have no choice but to vote Yes

April 30, 2009

I’m voting YES in the referendum.

I thought about not voting at all and I thought about voting YES and NO and so having my vote discounted.

I won’t vote NO because that opens up risk of returning to the situation we had before Section 59 of the Crimes Act was amended in 2007. This allowed people to defend assaulting children as an act of correction using “reasonable force in the circumstances?” Many of those terrible acts of cruelty to children that are now embedded in our grim legend of child abuse began as physical punishment, intending to teach the child a lesson.

I have thought about the question and discussed it with others and have come to the view that YES is my answer because I support the law. It is working as intended. Parents are not being criminalised for trivial offences.

I acclaim the Parliament of 2007 that stood up for children’s right to be protected from any form of assault, just as every other group of people in the country are.

No one is allowed to hit women, prisoners, soldiers, sailors, apprentices, old people, bad drivers or politicians as part of correcting their behaviour. And now the same protection extends to our children – no one can claim “reasonable force” as a defence for assaulting a child in the name of discipline.

Many of our European colleagues in the child rights movements are amazed that we are even having this debate. Children there are treated with the same regard and have the same protections as any other citizen. The UK is grappling with defining reasonable force and finding out what an extremely problematic exercise it is.

As our law becomes more and more integrated into our culture of child rearing we will wonder what on earth the fuss was about. It is clear from many studies and common parental wisdom that assault (and any form of hitting is an assault) is not necessary for, nor appropriate to, good parental correction.

The referendum question is tricky ….”should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Say No and risk opening the door again for people to smack, slap, hit, biff, bash, cuff, clobber and clout a child and claim that it’s reasonable correction.

Say Yes and you will maybe be open to the accusation that good parents should be criminalised for trivial offences.

In the two years of the law the Police have used their discretion to prosecute with wisdom and integrity. It is interesting that cases reported to Police have not risen significantly and that more parents are asking for and receiving information about appropriate and constructive discipline.

It is a shameful indictment on those who oppose the legislation that protects children have forced the situation that we will now spend something like $8m on a referendum to consider whether we should be allowed to assault children.

Even those who vigorously supported the call for the referendum have now questioned the need for it… a Press Release from Family First on 25 February said “If the government is serious about cost cutting, tightening our financial belts and prioritised spending to the frontline, it makes far more sense to divert that amount of money to more teachers, nurses, doctors and cops.”

I agree, and would love to see $8m spent supporting parents to learn constructive ways to guide and discipline their children – that would make a real difference to children, families, communities and society as whole. The Roper Report of 1989 told us that the home is the crucible of violence … eliminate it there and we have a blueprint for a safer, child friendly and less violent future.

So it’s definitely YES from me and, I hope, YES from you.
A YES vote supports a good law.

Barbara Lambourn is the National Advocacy Manager for Unicef NZ.

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

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