Physical punishment of children and the Child Discipline Law

November 16, 2009

Support for the 2007 law remains strong among those that understand how well children in New Zealand will be served in the long term by the repeal of the old section 59 Crimes Act 1961.  As the recent report from the Ministry of Social Development has shown there has been no increase in prosecutions for minor assaults on children since the law change but there seems an increased willingness to report more serious assaults on children.

It is also likely that the law is already contributing (along with information about positive parenting) to a social change away from use of smacking and hitting,    International evidence against the use of physical punishment continues to grow.   Calls from activities opposed to the 2007 law change do not reflect such evidence and the “March for Democracy” is their latest expensive move to apply pressure on politicians to turn back clock and send a message intentionally or unintentionally that physical punishment is a acceptable form of child discipline.

EPOCH NZ have produced a paper reviewing the law in light of recent research and the referendum.

The paper asks:

  • what is the evidence against use of physical punishment?
  • how is the 2007 law working?
  • who supports the 2007 law and who opposes it?
  • how will the safety and wellbeing of New Zealand children be best served now?

The answers to these questions form the basis for the following recommendations:

1.    Keep the law as it is: Children in New Zealand will be very well served over time if the Government stays strong in its resolve not to re-introduce a statutory defence into section 59 Crimes Act 1961.

2.    Provide information about the law and positive, non-violent discipline of children: There is an ongoing need for the dissemination of well-researched and supportive information about:

  • the law and its value
  • how the law is working in practice
  • positive non-physical discipline of children.

3.    Monitor the law and research its effects: The application of the child discipline law should continue to be monitored both to ensure that parents are not investigated and/or prosecuted when these actions are unhelpful and to track attitudinal and behavioural changes and the safety and wellbeing of children over time.

4.    Deal with any changes needed through policy and procedures: If inadequacies are found in the way the law is being applied then further protections should be developed without changing the law.  Such protections should support family functioning but at the same time not encourage the use of physical discipline by implying that it is okay.

Download the paper, Physical Punishment of Children and the Child Discipline Law.

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

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