March 7, 2010
The New Zealand Police released their 6th review of the implementation Crimes (substituted section 59) Amendment Act 2007 on Friday 5th March 2010. It covered the six-month period from 24 June 2009 to December 22nd 2009. You can read the Police media release, or download the full report.
The report indicates that the number of complaints about smacking and minor acts of physical discipline have remained fairly constant since the law changed. In the recent six month period there were two prosecutions – one for smacking and one for a minor act of physical discipline. Both were resolved by way of Diversion. In the cases were there was no prosecution made many parents were given warnings and a significant number were referred to organisations that could provide or direct families to support and guidance.
There has been an increase in the number of complaints in the category “Other Child Assault” which refers to more heavy handed assaults on children. As the police say the increase is consistent with “reduced tolerance and increased reporting of child assault events”.
We do not know whether or not the law change has contributed to the welcome decrease in tolerance of violence to children or n fact reduced assaults on children – relevant baseline data does not exist.
The continual cry from pro-smackers that the law change has not reduced serious child abuse is a distraction aimed at undermining the law. The Child Discipline Law is not a quick fix – this kind of change will take years, and results from a wide range of efforts. An independent group of experts convened by Social Development Minister Paula Benett last week recommended a multi-faceted approach.
The claim that the complaints made to the Police are a waste of precious Police resources is quite unfounded.
It is entirely appropriate that Police investigate all reports of violence to children – any physical discipline can be a precursor, or indicator of, more serious child abuse. It is also appropriate that most cases of minor assault do not end in prosecution – there are more constructive options for helping to change aggressive parental behaviour. Punishment of parents is not a primary objective of the law change. Social change is.