Charles Chauvel: Vote YES to protect the rights of those who cannot defend themselves

July 30, 2009

Many people have asked me how I will be voting in the upcoming referendum on smacking children.  My personal position is that I will be voting “yes”.

I have been a proud and consistent supporter of moves to make it unlawful to hit children. I supported at every stage the passing of what started out as Sue Bradford’s Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline Bill.  In the debate during the committee stages on that Bill relating to its purpose and title, I said:

It could equally be described as the “Crimes (Giving Children the Same Protection from Assaults as Adults) Bill”. It could equally be fairly described as the “Providing Reassurance to Parents by Providing Protection in Situations of Restraint for the Purposes of Keeping a Child or Other Person Safe Bill”. It could be equally, ably described as the “All Use of Force to Punish a Child will be Illegal, and This is Clear to Parents Bill”.

It could be described as the “Making a Smack Equally Unlawful Along With Other Harsh Punishments of a Child Bill”. It could be called the “Sending a Very Clear Public Message that Violence Against Children is Unacceptable Bill”. It could be called the “Making Legislation Consistent With the SKIP Initiative and Other Positive Parenting Initiatives Bill”. It could be called the “Making it Clear that Private Schools Cannot Get Parents to Physically Punish their Children for the School, as Currently Happens, Bill”. It could be called the “Making it Clear that it is Illegal to Hit Children Anywhere on their Bodies Bill”.

It could be called the “Making New Zealand’s Legislation Consistent with International Human Rights Obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Bill”; that would be an equally apt name for this legislation.  It could be called the “Making New Zealand’s Crime Laws Consistent with the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Care of Children Act Bill”.  It could be called any of those names because they describe what the bill does.

Not only have my views on the intention of the legislation not changed, but I believe that the police have demonstrated diligence and balance in administering the law.

What we have seen instead is a testament to the willingness of most New Zealanders to acknowledge that fair is fair: kiwis are good parents in general, but should not allow those who abuse then and cower either behind their culture, their past, their religion or their own stubbornness by defending practises that no longer reflect who we are as a nation.

Put another way, the current legislation is working; let it be.

There are some who would suggest that the legislation is not popular even within my own community, that the Pacific community is unanimous in their opposition to such change. I am reminded again of what I said in 2007:

Some of us who are young and of the Pacific know a large number of Pacific families who have opted out of violence and deliberately refrained from the practices of the previous generation. We have decided not to perpetuate the cycle of violence. There are many people in that category and I hope that I am thought to be one of them. It is patronising and a bit sickening to hear speaker after speaker talk about how the Pacific community-this mythical monolith-is opposed to this legislation. That is not so. There is a generation of young Pacific people in this country who are achievers and who are very proud of the fact that we have broken cycles of abuse and poverty. This sort of legislation is what we support. Let it not be said that there is a monolithic Pacific community against this legislation-that is a myth.

We all can be better, we all can do better and we all can help others better. Let’s not lose sight of that.

I will vote yes to protect the rights of those who cannot defend themselves; to promote solutions that allow the police to utilize what they have been trained to do; as an affirmation of my conviction that Kiwi parents are good parents; to break another cycle of violence.

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

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