Ian Hassall: The child-beating lobby are trivialising the real issues

May 20, 2009

The guilty verdict in the Christchurch child assault case was always likely. Why would the bystanders have called the police and why would the police have taken a prosecution unless there had been a serious assault? The ear flicking label was given by the father and taken up by the media and the child-beating lobby. It was always an unlikely story.

The trouble is that this has supported the father in his self-justification instead of helping him to find a way of dealing with the violence in his relationship with his children.

Sections of the media seem determined to trivialise this issue. They have run with the ‘anti-smacking bill’ headline for four years. Why did they take at face value the father’s ear-flicking story when witnesses were saying it was a punch in the face? There is a difference.

I’m glad the judge has signalled that he intends to impose a supportive sentence – perhaps an anger management course. I don’t want to join the punishers. A man who has the kind of relationship with his children where he erupts in anger and loses control, in broad daylight, in a busy city precinct needs some help.

This case is not primarily about Section 59. A punch in the face wouldn’t have been seen as ‘reasonable force’ under the old law. Even the child-beating lobby admit it’s going too far.

The case does underline the point though, that the high-sounding phrase, ‘reasonable force by way of correction’ is often just an excuse for lashing out after having lost your temper. The problem is not so much losing your temper – most of us have done that with our children – as believing this entitles you to strike them. In 2007, the new Child Discipline Law removed this excuse.

A Yes Vote supports this law, and sends a clear message to parents that there are better ways of disciplining children.

Ian Hassall is a paediatrician and children’s advocate. He was New Zealand’s first Commissioner for Children and before that Medical Director for the Plunket Society. He is Senior Research Fellow for the Institute of Public Policy at AUT, and part of the Every Child Counts campaign to place children’s interests at the centre of government. He teaches the undergraduate paper, Children and Public Policy.

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

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