May 25, 2009
Last week a court in Christchurch found James Louis Mason guilty of assaulting his 4-year-old son. CPS, New Zealands Child Protection specialists, are solid supporters of the current legislation that makes it unlawful to assault a child, but concerned that this case has actually created more confusion for the public.
Anthea Simcock, CEO of CPS says “It was unfortunate that this case was the one that tested the law. The public were already confused – the misleading and misinformed “anti smacking” label took hold before the majority of the public had a chance to understand what this law change was actually about. And rather than clarifying section 59, I think many are now more confused than ever, unsure if he was charged over the flick of an ear or a punch to the face.”
Whilst CPS have been unwavering supporters of the current legislation from the outset, they also recognise that many people simply do not understand what the law is about. Confusion and fear is standing in the way of this law being effective in achieving what is was designed to achieve – giving children the same rights that we as adults have and protecting them from being assaulted by adults.
Mrs Simcock likes to use an analogy around school attendance to help people understand and not fear the law.
“It is illegal in New Zealand to not send your child to school. I am sure every parent has, for some reason, kept their child away from school before. No one ever expects that all parents will be charged and made criminals because of those one or two days that most parents have kept their children away from school.
However, we DO expect that those parents who intentionally and repeatedly keep their children out of school, or allow their children to be repeatedly truant, should be dealt with according to the law. These parents are jeopardising the social, academic and pshycological future of their children.”
The same applies to this law, it is not designed to bring fear into parents and stop effective discipline of children. It is there to ensure that those who truly assault their children are brought to justice and the most vulnerable of our society are protected.”
Sadly, even as the New Zealand public continue to grapple with this confusing debate, they are being asked to vote in a referendum to clarify their position on this issue. A referendum which only serves to further confuse. The question posed in the referendum is “should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”
“Sure this is a valid question in and of itself” says Mrs Simcock. “But this question does not clarify the issue over section 59 at all. To answer yes – and effectively support the current legislation – automatically implies that any smack should be a criminal offence, which is not at all the intent of the legislation. Many who support the legislation will still be misled into voting against it simply due to the wording of the question.
It is critical that the public understand this law for it to be effective. Its about changing the attitudes of people and making sure that they act in the best interests of the child, and not just think its OK to deal with issues by going into “angry parent mode”.