Sunday documentary trivialises the need for legal protection for children

May 24, 2009

TVNZ’s Sunday portrayal of Jimmy Mason’s violent assault against his four-year-old son highlights the importance of the new law that shifts the norm so that force is no longer an acceptable or expected part of parenting, and gives children the same legal protection as other citizens. The child discipline law also ensures that parents are not able to claim a defence for assaulting a child.

The child discipline law is working if it means parents who punch, or otherwise seriously assault their child are found guilty. That is what happened in this case, according to the findings of the jury who heard all of the evidence in the Mason case.

Sunday chose to side with the Mason family. The jury chose to side with the evidence and the right of children not to be assaulted by a parent.

The purpose of the law is to allow children to live free from violence by abolishing the use of force for the purposes of correction. However, parents may use force such as restraint to prevent harm to a child. Preventing harm does not justify the use of violence. Even when parents are in “angry parent mode” there are always better ways than using violence and children will get the message better if they are communicated with in a clear, calm manner without being yelled and sworn at.

Children are let down by a society that doesn’t respond to concerns about their safety so the witnesses who saw Mason’s anger and violence did the right thing by reporting his behaviour and testifying about what they saw. It is essential that adults be prepared to speak out if they see a child being abused or have concerns about a child’s safety.

Violence teaches children that violence is okay, and it undermines a child’s physical and mental health. Jimmy Mason appears not to understand that his actions in anger put his child in danger physically and emotionally.

The child discipline law has not criminalised all parents. Police are closely monitoring the implementation of the law. Statistics show they are exercising discretion and only prosecuting serious assaults on children. Any suggestion that parents are being criminalised unnecessarily is nonsense.

If you saw the programme and were as disappointed as we were, please email them at

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

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