Encouragement from a former Commissioner for Children in Tasmania

July 15, 2009

Dear YesVote team

New Zealand has shown real moral leadership with their law reform on physical punishment for children and I congratulate all who worked hard for the repeal of an unjust law against children. I strongly support your endeavours in opposing the unethical and misguided referendum question soon to be put to the vote .

I want to comment on the upcoming referendum on “smacking”.

I am not surprised that both your Prime Minister and Opposition leader will not be voting in a referendum that is so awkward and misleading in its wording. Their concerns reportedly include the fact that the question can be seen in many ways and that voting will send a wrong message. I agree with them but I worry that those not in favour of smacking will let those who are, win by abstaining from the vote. Yet if only a small number actually vote, or vote “no”, that in itself should send a strong message to the public and government. Nevertheless I encourage supporters of children’s safety to register a strong “yes” vote.

I have seen reports in the Weekend Australian (5/7/09), about two recent cases you had in Wellington and Christchurch. In one a father appears to have pushed a 7 year old child at a sports event repeatedly and another had intentional forced contact with his 4 year old son’s ear in a park. Can either be classified as a “smack” as one was repeated pushing to the ground and the other a “cuff” to the ear? Both would have been hurtful and humiliating to the children, but sadly it appears that some in favour of the use of smacking as a “good” parenting tool may be using these cases to support theirs. I wonder if I can ask a few questions about the terms of the referendum and these cases?

  • Do these acts of pushing and striking amount to “smacks” to opposers of reform?
  • Are these parental actions loving acts?
  • Do they show parental respect for the child’s perspectives and worries?
  • Are they examples of “good” parenting?
  • Can homes with such activities be homes filled with love?
  • Do those who believe this is good parenting believe in “light” smacks too?
  • Do voters really want to permit such adult misbehaviour against children?
  • How can “good “parenting include actions that police class as assaults?
  • How is teaching children by smacking them “good” parenting?
  • Is it “good” practice to smack under 18s like apprentices, cadets etc?
  • Will such under 18s learn better with this type of teaching tool?
  • Is it not illegal to teach horses, dogs and circus animals by smacking them?
  • Should the small number of charges require a change in the new law?
  • Why would members of parliament change the law that a majority accepted?
  • Why is it OK to use such large funding to promote the cause of those who want to hit children?

New Zealand has been a fine example to other countries where child advocates speak out for law reform on legalised physical punishment too. I hope for the sake of the children of the world that your politicians remain steadfast in their support for equal protection for children.

Best wishes

Patmalar Ambikapathy

Barrister and Human Rights Consultant for Children

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

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