The Yes Vote – NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009

public awareness and attitudes to the law

In 2008 the Children’s Commissioner, Dr Cindy Kiro, thought it important to establish a benchmark for monitoring knowledge of the child discipline law, attitudes to the law and attitudes about the use of physical punishment. She commissioned the research company UMR to include relevant questions in an omnibus survey.

Key findings included

  • Forty-three percent of respondents in the independent omnibus survey supported the law while about one-third opposed it. The remainder was neutral.
  • The level of support against the use of physical discipline with children is also encouraging, with 37 percent clearly opposing use of physical discipline. Support for the use of physical discipline appears to be declining over time.
  • Awareness of the law change is high, although understanding of what the law means, is lower.
  • There are relatively high levels of support, at least in principle, for the concept that children should be entitled to the same protection from assault as adults.

Is use of physical discipline declining? It is more difficult to accurately assess whether use of physical discipline is declining over time because surveys have not asked the same question. Results from recent relevant surveys include:

  • From the 2007 youth health survey – participants were asked whether they had seen an adult hitting or physically hurting a child in their home (other than themselves) in the last 12 months. Approximately 17% of students had witnessed adults hitting or physically hurting a child in their home and many categorised the assault as severe. (See, and click on Youth 07: The Health and Well Being of Secondary Students in New Zealand: initial Findings).
  • From the 2006/2007 New Zealand Health Survey – primary caregivers were asked about their responses to child misbehaviour during the four weeks preceding a face to face interview with a researcher. One in ten children were reported as having experienced physical punishment in the previous four weeks. The researchers warned that the results were likely to under represent use of physical discipline because only one caregiver in each household was questioned, for example.
  • Recent research reported by Professor Anne Smith and colleagues has confirmed that relatively few young parents favour using physical discipline and many do not think it is effective. When they understand the law they tend to support it.
  • While the referendum outcome does not appear to reflect strong support for the 2007 law this is not surprising – it did not ask about support for the law but rather asked a question that had the potential to alarm respondents or feed into resentment and that may have confused some respondents.

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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