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”