The Yes Vote – NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009

history of the child discipline law

The use of physical discipline of children in the New Zealand culture has its origins largely in Roman law and the absolute power of life and death over children (and slaves and wives) that male heads of households had. It also has origins in some interpretations of Old Testament scriptures.

As early as the 1960s some parents in New Zealand began questioning the value of physical punishment and noticing its negative consequences. Through the 1970 and 1980s lonely voices such as those of the psychologists Jane and James Ritchie and lawyer Robert Ludbrook questioned the effects of physical punishment and pointed out that it breached of children’s rights. In 1993 the first Children’s Commission, Dr Ian Hassall, accelerated the discussion by promoting repeal of section 59 Crimes Act 1961.

The old Section 59 Crimes Act 1961 provided a statutory defence for adults prosecuted for assaulting a child if the force used in the assault was for the purposes of correction and reasonable in the circumstances. It was regarded as permission to strike children and led to cases of serious assault being acquitted in court.

In 2005 when Sue Bradford’s bill to repeal section 59 was drawn from the Private Members ballot the matter of physical discipline if children became the subject of intense media, public and political debate.

The case for reform included the following arguments:

  • The existence of the statutory defence was inconsistent with public education aimed at promoting positive non-violent parenting
  • Positive non-violent discipline works well
  • Research shows that there are many negative effects associated with children experiencing physical discipline and children in New Zealand still experience harsh or heavy-handed physical discipline.
  • Parents who physically abuse their children often explain their behaviour as discipline. Physical discipline is a known risk factor for abuse
  • Children were not always well protected in the courts under the old section 59 Crimes Act 1961 statutory defence.

In 2007 a heavily amended version of Sue Bradford’s bill became law in New Zealand. It was supported by 113 of 120 members of Parliament. New Zealand became the first English speaking country to introduce legal measures to ban physical punishment of children.

For full information on the history see the book Unreasonable Force: New Zealand’s Journey towards banning corporal punishment of children (PDF)

New Zealand’s child discipline law is a good one.
The law supports positive parenting.
The law increases children’s protection from assault.
Please email your MP and ask them to support retention of the current law.

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

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