September 25, 2009
James Ritchie died on Thursday morning. He was the father of the movement to end violence toward children in New Zealand. His public advocacy for repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 stretches back through the years to the submission he and Jane Ritchie made to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Violent Offending in 1978 and forward to their contribution to the campaign for the Bill that eventually changed the law in 2007.
James and Jane were pioneer researchers of the lives of families and children in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific. Their books, “Child-rearing patterns in New Zealand”, “Growing up in New Zealand” and “Growing up in Polynesia” published respectively in 1970, 1978 and 1979 are landmarks in both social science and popular literature.
Their sense of justice, their understanding of what makes healthy, successful societies and their compassion drove them to expose and repudiate the undercurrent of violence in the lives of New Zealanders that their research had revealed. Their 1981 book, “Spare the rod” was a rational and passionate argument for ending the physical punishment of children. This was a theme in their subsequent books, “Violence in New Zealand”, published in 1990 and “The next generation: child-rearing in New Zealand” published in 1997.
James Ritchie had an influential place in both Maori and Pakeha cultures. He was a respected advisor to Tainui and the Kahui Ariki and an academic leader at the University of Waikato. His experiences and his understanding were incorporated into his 1992 book, “Becoming bicultural”.
The Yes Vote coalition is relatively new but the movement against legalised violence to children is much older. Its values and its work owe a great deal to James and Jane.
E te rangatira
Haere, haere, haere
September 24, 2009
Children’s Commissioner Dr John Angus said today he hoped ACT MP John Boscawen’s private member’s bill did not pass its first reading.
Boscawen’s Crimes (Reasonable Parental Control and Correction) Amendment Bill will essentially put children in a worse position than before the 2007 law change, Dr Angus said. The Bill, if passed, will enshrine a parent or guardian’s right to correct their child’s behaviour in a manner that the parent or guardian considers to be reasonable under the circumstances. This may include inflicting pain on the child.
“While the wording of this bill talks about the correction not being ‘cruel or degrading’ and says the effect of the hitting must be ‘no more than transitory or trifling’, it reinforces the old law that allowed parents to assault their children and claim a defense of reasonable force,” Dr Angus said.
“I don’t believe that finding ways to define when and how children might be hit, at what age and what with, for purposes of correction is in any way connected to the best interests of children.”
Dr Angus said that the young people he had sought advice from want the law to remain as it is.
“Children will be further confused, as they are by smacking itself. And the growing number of parents who are working hard to bring up their children in ways that do not involve hitting will feel sold out. Many New Zealanders will find the discussion distasteful.
“One thing is for sure: it will not end a debate that has already distracted us from some important issues about children’s wellbeing.
“I would rather see our time taken up with debating the nature of the relationships we have with children as parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers and community members. Those relationships shape our children’s futures. We should put our energy into how well we are bringing up our children, rather than into the rules around a very narrow and problematic behaviour – physical punishment.
“The changes to Section 59 in 2007 were a line in the sand, a signal that violence against children is not OK. When New Zealand changed the law we joined 25 countries across the world that have a legal ban on the use of physical punishment with children. Some of those countries banned hitting children more than 30 years ago and have very low rates of child abuse. We were the first English speaking country to pass such a law and reversing that would bring international incredulity.
“It is time to move on and engage in public debate about our attitudes towards children and young people, rather than how we can best punish them”
September 21, 2009
The Herald reports that organisers of the recent referendum on the smacking law confronted the leaders of both major parties yesterday – but failed to win a single concession to review the law. Furthermore, questions from smacking supporters actually pushed Mr Key into a stronger defence of the law than he has given before, saying the 2007 ban on any use of force against children for “correction” was important to “send a message” that violence against children was unacceptable.
Read the full article at The Herald.
September 17, 2009
The Telegraph reports on new research showing that children who are smacked are more aggressive and have poorer mental development than those who are verbally castigated.
Research on toddlers and other studies following children into adolescence found physical punishment was bad for children and made them more likely to show anti-social behaviour.
The children who were smacked at age one were more aggressive and had not developed cognitive skills as well as those punished verbally.
In a separate study children aged between five and 16 found that children who were spanked often were two to three times more likely to show anti-social behaviour than those not punished physically.
Read the article at The Telegraph
September 7, 2009
Prime Minister John Key today released Terms of Reference for a review of policies and procedures used by the New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family around the issue of smacking.
The review stems from Cabinet decisions a fortnight ago introducing safeguards to give parents comfort they will not be criminalised for lightly smacking their children.
“This review will look at the policies and procedures of the Police and CYF, including the referral process between the two agencies, to identify any changes needed to ensure good parents are treated as Parliament intended,” Mr Key says.
“The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and the recent referendum reinforces that New Zealanders don’t either.
“I believe the law is working as intended but I can assure parents the National-led Government will continue to monitor the way the law is being implemented.”
The review will be conducted by the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, Peter Hughes, the Commissioner of Police Howard Broad, and well known clinical psychologist Nigel Latta.
Mr Latta has significant experience working with young people and their families and Mr Key says his independent perspective will be useful.
“I am pleased that Nigel has agreed to take part in the review and I’m sure he will bring a direct and honest approach to the table,” Mr Key says.
“The reviewers will be able to make recommendations and consider any other matters they think will help to ensure that parents are treated as Parliament intended.”
The review team will report to the Prime Minister, Minister of Police and Minister of Social Development by December 1.
A citizens-initiated referendum was held between 31 July and 21 August 2009 on the question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Eighty-seven per cent of those who voted, responded ‘no’ to this question.
The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and does not believe the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 intends for this to occur. It wants safeguards to be put in place to give parents comfort that this will not happen. Cabinet [CAB Min (09) 30/23] has agreed to a number of measures to provide such safeguards. These include this review of New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures.
Terms of Reference
To review New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures, including the referral process between the two agencies, in order to identify any changes that are necessary or desirable in the interest of ensuring that:
1. good parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007
2. provisions of the law (both criminal and under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989) are applied to those who abuse children.
To consider any other matters which, in the reviewers’ opinion, will assist in ensuring that parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007.
To make recommendations concerning these matters.
Peter Hughes, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development
Howard Broad, Commissioner of Police
Nigel Latta, Clinical Psychologist.
The reviewers will provide a report and make recommendations to the Prime Minister and Ministers of Police and Social Development and Employment by 1 December 2009.
Nigel Latta says in a press release,
I have been approached by the Prime Minister and asked if I would consider participating in a review of the Police and CYF processes around S 59 to see if the law is working as intended. I have agreed to participate in this review on the basis that it was understood that my role was independent and that I was able to speak freely about both the process of the review, and my opinions regarding its findings.
For the record, and this is something I have commented on publically in a number of contexts, my personal view on S59 is that I did not agree with the original law change. I also voted no in the referendum. I do not believe that a parent smacking their child, in the ‘common sense’ understanding of what that means, should be subject to criminal prosecution or investigation. It would be my view that the “anti-smacking debate” has become needlessly polarised from the very beginning into a position whereby you are either “for child abuse”, or you are “against child abuse”. This tendency of both sides of the debate to reduce a complex social/moral issue into rather simplistic extremes has resulted in our being plunged into an argument that has consumed a great deal of time, energy, and money, when ultimately everyone agrees with that we need to do more to protect children from abuse and neglect.
The terms of reference for this review are very clear. I see my role as first and foremost to look at the evidence and to ensure that the law does not result in good parents either being criminalised, or being needlessly subjected to investigations that are intrusive and/or traumatic. This is a responsibility I hold directly to the everyday mums and dads of New Zealand, and one that I take very seriously.
Because this issue has been dealt with to date in largely emotive and ideological rhetoric, I am interested solely in looking at the data, and in forming an opinion on the actual impact of the law change on that basis. For that reason I will not be meeting with, corresponding with, or entering into discussions with, any lobby groups from either end of the debate.
I will also not be engaging in any media interviews on this matter until after the review process has been completed. At that time the findings will be presented to the public in as transparent a manner as possible so that the Kiwi parents can make up their own minds based on the actual data.
September 3, 2009
Russell Brown has been in contact with the son of the “riding crop lady”, and posted some of the conversation on Public Address:
There’s a good deal that can’t be said about the so-called “Timaru Lady”, whose Section 59 acquittal on charges of assaulting her son with a riding crop and a cane really began the recent smacking madness. The permanent suppression order the followed her acquittal has seen to that.
But I can say that she has an older son in Auckland, with whom I have occasionally been in contact. His first email to me, last year, included this passage:
Let me start by firstly saying I left home during high school because of the physical abuse and have nothing further to do with my mother other than through countless family court hearings with me trying to get my brothers and sisters removed from her care.
Anyway the point of my email is that I talked to Family First several times years ago and they were aware of [redacted]’s past and I even gave them more informed details but they were more than happy just to brush it over and use her as a political catalyst. It makes me really angry and I did fire back at them at the time they were supporting violence against our children. But however. You will find a couple more organisations such as Anti-Cyfs organisations …. that fully support her. I really think someone should bring this to light.
For more, see the full post at Public Address.