Archive for the news Category

Physical punishment still legal in schools in many states in the USA

July 20, 2010

Corporal punishment of children in schools has been illegal in New Zealand for 20 years. Most parents would be outraged if they thought their children could be strapped or caned at the discretion of another adult. They would see this form of punishment as unjust, ineffective, unsafe and a breach of children’s rights.

In a short news item from Texas. USA, something called a “paddle” is displayed. This is the implement used in some schools to punish children. It looks like a cricket bat and it is said to be capable of causing tissue injury in the recipient. Physical punishment of children in schools is still legal in some, but not all, states in USA.

In the clip a child advocate argues against the use of physical punishment as colleagues seek to make physical punishment of children illegal in schools in Texas. He argues that hitting children teaches them to hit, is ineffective as a method of teaching children to behave well and is a cruel and degrading form of punishment.

Hopefully more and more New Zealanders know these things and will feel horror on seeing a “paddle”. The “paddle” is a very graphic symbol of violence to children and reflects nothing but misinformation about what adults can do to help children behave well.

SKIP: What it is and why it works

May 19, 2010

The Ministry of Social Development have recently published this attractive and readable report called SKIP: What it is and why it works based on research into the SKIP (Strategies with Kids: Information for Parents) initiative.

The report is a valuable source of information about community based delivery of positive parenting messages utilising a variety of approaches with an emphasis on relationships, innovation, universality and community development. It identifies factors contributing to the effectiveness of the SKIP approach as well as the impact it has on children, parents and caregivers, communities and organisations.

In 2001 Cabinet agreed that there was a need of public education about alternatives to the use of physical discipline with children. Originally a public education campaign was envisaged but the strategy was revised and SKIP was born in 2003. It had three components:

  • The development of national parenting resources
  • Partnerships with national organisations delivering positive parenting messages
  • A contestable Local Initiative Fund (LIF) that supported local community projects.

SKIP has been a very successful initiative and the LIF has enabled the development of many creative, innovative and locally inspired success stories.

Read more about SKIP at www.skip.org.nz, or download the report (PDF).

Europe presses UK to introduce total ban on smacking

April 26, 2010

The Guardian reports:

The UK will come under increasing pressure to ban all smacking and corporal punishment of children as the European human rights body steps up pressure for a change in the law.

The Council of Europe – which monitors compliance with the European convention on human rights – will criticise the UK because it has not banned smacking more than 10 years after a ruling in 1998 that the practice could violate children’s rights against inhuman and degrading treatment.

“The campaign to abolish corporal punishment across the Council of Europe is gathering momentum; 20 countries have formally abolished laws allowing it in the past three years,” said Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, deputy secretary general of the Council of Europe.

Read more at The Guardian

The sixth police review: The Child Discipline Law is still working well

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.

The child discipline law six months after the referendum

February 24, 2010

Six months have passed since the August 2009 postal referendum on “a smack”. The 2007 amendment to the Crimes Act 1961 that essentially bans the use of force for correction remains intact despite the referendum and extensive lobbying of politicians and the public by “pro-smacking” activists. Since the referendum two reviews have indicated that the law is being implemented sensibly:

Leading politicians have not wavered on their decision to not to reintroduce a statutory defence

However, it is possible that the public are confused about what the law actually means, because it is confusing, because of the emphasis there has been on protecting “good” parents from prosecution and a mixed message in the media about the acceptability of minor physical discipline .

The 2007 law means that if an adult hits a child hard enough to end up being prosecuted he or she will no longer have a statutory defence to call on. Technically any assault, however light, is against the law (just as a minor assault on an adult is) but the reviews indicate that minor assaults are not being prosecuted. This is not because mild physical punishment is good for children but rather because prosecution is not a constructive option in such cases. It would be unfortunate if the two reviews held since the law change and associated political reassurances are regarded as support for smacking or seen to imply that smacking is a necessary part of child discipline.

It is also clear from the second review that claims made by some parents that they are investigated inappropriately are one sided and short on detail.

New Zealand would be moving more rapidly towards becoming a place where everyone believed that it is not acceptable to smack and hit children if its leaders across many spheres were clear and consistent in their support for positive, non violent discipline. This is not the same as advocating that all parents who transgress the law are punished.

We don’t really know what proportion of the public wants to smack and hit children. The outcome of the referendum based on a confusing question is not an indicator of relevant public attitudes. The limited research we have available seems to indicate that attitudes are trending in the right direction but that there is still some way to go before a majority of the population can move on from a belief that hitting and smacking children is ok, even necessary.

ACT MP John Boscawen, is convinced that children cannot be guided to behave well without being smacked and that use of implements might be appropriate when keeping children safe. Where does he get his information about child rearing from? Does it come from his own experience as a child, has he observed other people parenting or is he simply taking a punt at what he thinks will be a popular cause? His background is in the accounting and finance world which will not have exposed him to modern child development theory or experience with managing children. He makes no reference to credible research in justifying his claim that physical punishment is a necessary part of child discipline and a parent’s right.

And what of children’s rights? It is illegal to hit wives, prisoners and service men and women in New Zealand, fundamentally because such assaults are regarded as an infringement of their human rights (regardless of whether or not hitting might make them behave better). The same is true for children.

Mr Boscawen’s bill has been drawn from the ballot but it has not had its first reading in Parliament because Mr Boscawen has delayed this, as he is entitled to do. It appears likely that he will continue to delay the first hearing because he does not have support from any party in Parliament other than ACT. Mr Boscawen has held a series of public meetings around the country to support his bill and it is likely that his supporters will hold further meetings. Whose interests will the meetings serve? Certainly not the interests of children.

International research continues to indicate that children that are hit have poorer outcomes than those who are never, or only occasionally, exposed to physical punishment. (See also other research on this site).

Recently pro-smackers around the world made much of a US study that claimed to have found that young children spanked by their parents may perform better at school later on and grow up to be happier. Marjorie Gunnoe, psychology professor at Michigan’s Calvin College is the author of this unpublished research and has used it to caution against governments changing laws to ban use of physical discipline. The research been rejected for publication by at last two respected journals and there has been considerable criticism of its methodology.

2010 will be good year for children if:

  • political leaders stay strong in their resolve not revisit the 2007 law
  • politicians and other leaders encourage greater use of positive non-physical discipline by supporting the law and not excusing physical discipline.
  • increased funding is made available for parent support and education with a particular emphasis on supporting local communities to lead their own changes in the way children are regarded and treated
  • the law is presented in a positive and reassuring manner as being a good law for children and families and one that is being implemented sensibly
  • the media continue to loose interest in the so-called “anti-smacking debate”.
  • the pro-smacking activists let the issue go and move on.

Beth Wood

New website for children

February 13, 2010

The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children has launched a new website for children.

This comprehensive site contains information about children campaigning to end corporal punishment in many countries.

It also contains useful resources to help children and adults campaign together against corporal punishment.

The debate in New Zealand about the use of physical punishment of children and law change involved limited but valuable and important opportunities for children to participate.

The new website reports on the New Zealand debate.

What sort of sense do children make of being smacked and hit? Are children aware that they have rights to safety and physical integrity? What do children think of laws that “excuse” assault of children (excused by some people as an adult’s right to chose how to discipline their child).

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child advises that State Parties shall assure to the child which is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting that child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

Physical punishment is absolutely a matter that affects children.

Ending legalised violence against children worldwide – Global Report 2009

January 22, 2010

A recent report published by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children provides information about world wide progress towards universal prohibition of all corporal (physical) punishment of children.

There are now 26 countries which have enacted laws prohibiting corporal punishment of children in all settings. New Zealand is, of course, one of these. In many other countries there are positive commitments and campaigns underway. The report provides extensive information on the status of countries world-wide.

In New Zealand it is many years since physical punishment was legal in settings other than the home (banned in 2007) but in some parts of the world children are still beaten in schools, penal institutions and alternative care settings and are the victims of outdated, inhumane and violent practices.

Introductory messages to the Report from Marta Santos Pias (Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence against Children), Professor Yanghee Lee (Chairperson, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child) and Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (previously the Independent Expert who led the UN Secretary General’s Study On Violence against Children) all make it clear that respect for children’s human rights to dignity and physical integrity through the banning of corporal punishment is a critical part of protecting children from all violence.

Children’s human right to dignity, physical integrity and full protection from violence are the fundamental underpinnings of a legal ban on use of force in the correction of children. All too often this fact gets lost as New Zealanders debate parent’s perceived right to discipline their children as they see fit and the irrelevant question of whether a small smack does any harm.

“Research” shows that smacking is good for kids?

January 8, 2010

Recently there have been reports in the media in New Zealand and internationally drawing attention to an unpublished study by Marjorie Gunnoe at Calvin College in Michigan USA that purports to have found that children who are smacked occasionally do better at school than children who are never smacked. These findings are, of course, being made much of by proponents of physical discipline – including those who would like to see New Zealand’s 2007 child discipline law overturned.

It needs to be said at the outset that the case for bringing children into line with all other citizens in regard to their rights to protection from assaults does not primarily rest on whether or not smacking is effective or good (or bad) for children. We do not ask the same questions in regard to whether or not assaults might be effective in controlling other groups of citizens whose reasoning is sometimes less developed than other adults – the aged, the mentally ill and those with intellectual disabilities, for example. Removing the legal justification for assaults on children is fundamentally an issue of human rights to full protection from attacks on bodily integrity.

However, that aside, there is now a huge volume of credible research internationally that shows consistently that children who are physically hurt in the course of discipline often have poor relationships with their parents and are more likely to have poor developmental outcomes including emotional problems. Physical punishment is also consistently shown to be a risk factor for child abuse ie children who are physically punished are more likely to be hit hard and suffer injuries than those that are never hit or smacked. Children who experience and witness violence in their own homes can come to regard hitting another person as an acceptable way of behaving.

The following points are relevant when considering the media coverage of Gunnoe’s study:

1. The institution which undertook the research is an avowed sponsor of ‘faith-based inquiry’ not open scientific inquiry. Their stated vision is: “Through our learning, we seek to be agents of renewal in the academy, church, and society. We pledge fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God’s work in God’s world.”

2. The lead researcher has published work which seems designed to confirm established beliefs of some conservative Christian communities.

3. She is not a recognised contributor to the scientific literature in this field.

4. The report of the study findings has not been published in a recognised scientific journal and so has not been subject to the scientific scrutiny associated with such publication.

5. The media reports are second or third hand and subject to the accompanying distortions.

6. The methodology of the research is unknown. Important points that bear on the validity of its reported conclusions are:

  • Were the smacking and non-smacking groups selected and matched so as isolate smacking and non-smacking as the only significant variables upon which the conclusions were based?
  • How were smacking and non-smacking defined? Was there a severity scale?
  • What were the outcome measures that purportedly distinguished between children who were and were not smacked? Were they chosen so as to be reliably and consistently measurable and were they important? Was the difference statistically significant?

7. If the reported conclusions are legitimate, they require support from repeated studies if they are to have any credibility, i.e. they could be unrepresentative results.

8. Calling an investigation ‘research’ can be aimed at investing it with a respectability that it does not deserve.

Beth Wood and Ian Hassall

Free Booklet: A Theology of Children

November 23, 2009

theology-of-children1A Theology of Children is a new 24-page booklet aimed at supporting and strengthening parents, grandparents, and caregivers with strategies for non-physical discipline of children within a theological context.  You can download A Theology of Children for free.

A Theology of Children was produced with the support of the Ministry of Social Development initiative SKIP (Strategies with Kids/ Information for Parents), and written by Reverend Nove Vailaau, who is very passionate about clarifying the issue of physical discipline in Christian theology. It also has an forward by Bishop Richard Randerson and a summary by Dr Elizabeth Clements.

The booklet has a broad perspective, but also focuses on the Pacific peoples of New Zealand. It provides an opportunity for discussion about parenting practices in Pacific communities and within New Zealand in general.

A Theology of Children aims to help guide parents and caregivers through the six principles of effective discipline: love and warmth, talking and listening, guidance and understanding, limits and boundaries, consistency and consequences, and a structured and secure world.

Download A Theology of Children.

Latest Section 59 review says the law is working well

November 11, 2009

Yet another review of the Child Discipline Law confirms that the law is working well.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennet says in her media release:

“The review has found no evidence to show that parents are being subject to unnecessary state intervention for occasionally lightly smacking their children.
“I think this review goes some way to comforting parents that the law is being interpreted in the way it was intended.”

So if report after monotonous report confirms that the Child Discipline Law is working to protect children without putting parents at risk, one might ask some hard questions about the true agenda of the Orwellianly-named “March for Democracy” as they march by this weekend.

Read the full MSD report.

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

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