Archive for the research Category

Report on Sweden’s corporal punishment ban after 30 years

February 12, 2010

In September 2009 the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and Sweden’s Save the Children published Never Violence – Thirty Years on from Sweden’s Abolition of Corporal Punishment, 2009. The report briefly outlines the background of the ban, reports on trends since the 1979 law change and corrects claims made by opponents.

Trends reflect the decline in support for physical punishment in Sweden:

  • in the 1960s, over 50% of children had been ‘smacked’ once or several times per year
  • by 2000, only around 10% were smacked
  • about 9% of parents still believe in using cp
  • there has been a sharp decline in punishment by punching and using implements

The report also contradicts claims made by opponents in Sweden and elsewhere:

  • the percentage of reported assaults on children that are prosecuted has not increased
  • increased reports of suspected assaults reflect public awareness- not more assaults
  • youth crimes of theft and property damage have decreased, not increased
  • violent crime rates have stayed relatively constant, not increased
  • there is no indication of increased criminality among young people.

The full report may be read on the Swedish Government’s English language website.

The APS Parent guide to helping children manage conflict

January 22, 2010

Understanding some of the stresses that parents undergo in parenting children is an important issue that has received little attention in the recent media debate around a US study on the effectiveness of discipline and smacking children.

Parenting children can be especially challenging during the long summer holidays when families often spend more time together. Warmer weather can also see tempers fray.

Australian Psychological Society (APS) President, Professor Bob Montgomery, said it is helpful for parents to recognise that holiday time, although traditionally for fun and relaxation, can also be quite stressful.

“Children might be squabbling more than usual, asking for things, seeking attention. This can be exhausting and frustrating for parents, with some parents more likely to lose their temper with their children. It can be helpful for parents to use one or more calming strategies before this happens – such as talking to a friend and letting them know how you are feeling, or taking some slow, calming breaths, and saying things to yourself like “stay calm‟. Some parents find that walking out of the room, having a drink of water, or playing some music can help them to calm down, and regain control so that they can deal more effectively with their children.”

Research shows that physical punishment for bad behaviour does not work as well as other ways of disciplining children.

  • If a parent frequently uses physical punishment, children often have trouble learning to control themselves.
  • Physical punishment on its own does not teach children right from wrong.
  • Physical punishment makes children afraid to disobey when parents are present, and when parents are not present to administer the punishment, those same children are more likely to misbehave (Gershoff, 2002).
  • Hitting or spanking your child is likely to decrease the quality of your relationship with them.

The APS Parent guide to helping children manage conflict, aggression and bullying contains useful information about how to manage a child‟s behaviour in an effective way, without being aggressive or unduly punishing the child. More useful strategies include the use of logical consequences, time out, or withdrawal of consequences. This practical guide is freely available from the APS website.

Report: Child abuse and neglect cost NZ $2 billion

August 25, 2009

Every Child Counts has just released a report written by Infometrics entitled The nature of economic costs of child abuse and neglect in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Government has substantially increased its investment into the prevention of child abuse and neglect in recent years.  In the 2004 Budget departmental appropriations for education and preventative services for children amounted to just $16.1m, or 3% of the Child, Youth and Family appropriation in 2004/05.  In the 2008 Budget this commitment had risen to $166m. 

However, adapting international cost estimates to the New Zealand situation suggests that every year child abuse and neglect generates a long term bill that is equivalent to around $NZ2bn (or over 1% of GDP).

Based on US studies, just 32% of this cost is likely to be the direct consequences of child abuse and neglect (eg health care, child welfare service, and justice system costs).  A further 36% of costs relate to ongoing health, education, and criminal consequences for child abuse victims in later life.  The final 32% of costs result from a decline in productivity as victims fail to meet their potential (Wang and Holton 2007).

The growing focus on prevention is a welcome development that reflects the current understanding of child development and the biological underpinning of this development process:

  • The architecture of the brain and the process of skill formation are both influenced by an inextricable interaction between genetics and individual experience.
  • Both the mastery of skills that are essential for economic success and the development of their underlying neural pathways follow hierarchical rules in a bottom-up sequence such that later attainment build on foundations that are laid down earlier.
  • Cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional competencies are interdependent, all are shaped powerfully by the experiences of the developing child, and all contribute to success in the work place
  • Although adaptation continues throughout life, human abilities are formed in a predictable sequence of sensitive periods, during which the development of specific neural circuits and the behaviours they mediate are more plastic and, therefore, optimally receptive to environmental influences.

Brain development is continuous over many years.  For children at unusually high risk, neuroscience provides a compelling argument for beginning intervention programmes at birth, if not prenatally.  Developmental research shows that children master different skills at different ages, which suggests that opportunities for a variety of effective interventions are present throughout early childhood.

Looking forward the critical issues that still need to be resolved are:

  • Is the current level of government spending on preventing child abuse and neglect sufficient?
  • How can one ensure that the appropriate level of resourcing is attained and maintained?
  • What institutional arrangements will encourage the delivery of effective preventative services?

Answering the first question will require further New Zealand specific research, and this will also contribute to debate about the level of public commitment to the issue.  Grunewald and Rolnick (2006) suggest an elegant approach to ensuring public commitment is maintained and which can foster innovation in the delivery of services aimed at reducing the incidence to child maltreatment: the creation of a public endowment.  Grunewald and Rolnick consider the benefits of such an approach are that:

  • It encourages private, innovative, and targeted provision of early childhood services (small scale, high quality interventions have demonstrated greater social returns than broad-based publicly provided schemes).
  • It represents a permanent commitment and allows leverage of resources from public and private stakeholders.
  • A permanent commitment sends a market signal to service providers that they can expect a consistent demand for their product.
  • By drawing up a business plan that demonstrates it can win service provision contracts, a prospective provider can leverage funds for capital expansions as lenders will be assured by the stability of the early childhood development endowment.

This report covers the consequences of child abuse and neglect,  the case for preventative intervention, and policy issues related to the promotion of a preventative approach to child abuse and neglect.

Download The nature of economic costs of child abuse in New Zealand.

Report prompts call to action from new Children’s Commissioner

July 16, 2009

Efforts to prevent the tragic deaths of children in New Zealand must not be allowed to slow down, new Children’s Commissioner John Angus urged today on the release of a report into maltreatment of young children.

The report, Death and serious injury from assault of children under 5 years in Aotearoa New Zealand: A review of international literature, was commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and reviewed common risk factors for death and injury from abuse in New Zealand and worldwide.

“Every year about 45 children under 5 years old are seriously injured and around five are killed because they are maltreated at the hands of people they should be able to trust.  That’s a distressing statistic,” John Angus said.

“And sadly, as this reports suggests, it is very young babies that are most at risk of abuse. Their vulnerability means that almost all forms of assault can lead to serious injury and death. It only takes a small slap to the head or a short shake of a baby to do real harm.

“The report also highlights some risks we need to give more attention to in this country. For instance, there is a particular risk when babies are left in the care of young men who are not biological fathers. They are often totally unprepared for the stresses of a crying baby and may already have problems with anger or alcohol abuse.

“International research has found that they often lash out in an attempt to ‘silence’ the child. With knowledge like this we can make sure that funding and resources to reduce child abuse are directed to the right places and at the right people.

“For instance, I would strongly urge government agencies to consider funding the Shaken Baby Prevention Programme – which is currently being looked at closely by the Auckland DHB.

“This successful international programme, based on robust research, is an excellent example of practical action being taken to reduce child abuse.

“The programme targets parents of newborns, including fathers, to give them information about infants’ vulnerability to brain injury and to teach them how to deal with the frustration of a baby crying inconsolably. One American study of the programme found a 47 per cent decrease in head injuries caused by Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“I would strongly recommend this programme is piloted in Auckland and the results evaluated. If effective it could be introduced New Zealand-wide.”

Report co-authors Mavis Duncanson, Don Smith and Emma Davies suggest that child abuse is often the result of a multitude of risk factors within families. It is compounding factors like a previous history of violence, impending parental separation and a lack of antenatal care that can suggest a higher risk of child abuse.

“Reviews like the one I’m releasing today make an important contribution to what we already know about the risks to young children and to the work underway to reduce the rate of abuse and neglect,” said John Angus.

“My intention during my time as Commissioner is to use evidence like this to support recommendations on matters concerning children and to ensure that such information is used to good effect by health, education and child protection agencies.

“I’m pleased that CYF and health services are already focusing on the prevention of abuse and neglect amongst infants, for example in the changes to the Well Child services.

“We simply cannot afford to ignore the harm done to our children – it is a significant issue for New Zealand and one that requires the full efforts of all those working with families and young children.”

Child discipline law does not make caring parents criminals

July 7, 2009

From the Human Rights Commission

A legal opinion prepared by the Human Rights Commission finds that parents have little reason to be concerned that they risk being prosecuted if they give their child a trivial slap or smack.

The Commission has released the legal opinion to help inform debate in the upcoming referendum on the child discipline legislation.

Critics say the new law creates uncertainty for parents. However the legal opinion says the original section 59 of the Crimes Act was no clearer. It said the use of force by parents “by way of correction” was justified if the force was “reasonable in the circumstances.”

Because “reasonable” was open to interpretation, it led to parents being acquitted for disciplining their children with belts, hose pipes and pieces of wood.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said, “We’re asking that all those with a genuine concern for the welfare of children and their parents provide accurate information rather than creating unfounded fears on this issue.”

The Commission’s legal opinion says that children may not be hit for the purpose of correction, but states: “Section 59 now allows parents (or someone acting in that role) to use reasonable force for a variety of purposes including the prevention of harm to the child” and to perform the normal daily job of providing good care and parenting.

The amendments gave the police the discretion to prosecute. When receiving a complaint, the police can choose not to prosecute if the offence is considered so “inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.”

The Chief Commissioner said the police have used their discretion wisely and are not prosecuting parents without good reason.

Chief Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said, “The real issue is that there should be no tolerance for violence against children, even in the guise of parental correction.”

The Human Rights Commission supported the amendments to section 59 because it meant that no longer could abusive parents charged with beating their children hide behind a spurious defence.

And because the amendments are a significant step in making real the human rights and responsibilities set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).

Ms Noonan regretted that the referendum question is so flawed that it cannot but provide a meaningless result. “The great shame is that the confusion the question has spawned will result in apathy and cynicism that will undermine still further people’s willingness to participate in New Zealand’s political processes.”

US report show clear connection between abuse and physical punishment

July 3, 2009

Report on physical punishment in the United States: What research tells us about its effects on children

An extensive report from the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, USA on the effects of physical punishment on children clearly shows connections between physical abuse in later life and physical punishment as a child.

Published last year (2008) the main goal of the report is to provide a concise review of the empirical research to date on the effects physical punishment has on children. It was created for parents and others who care for children, professionals who provide services to them, those who develop policy and programmes that affect children and families, interested members of the public, and children themselves.

The report’s author, Elizabeth T Gershoff, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, received her doctoral degree in Child Development and worked for five years at the National Centre for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.

Her current research focuses on the impacts of parenting and violence exposure on child and youth development over time and within the contexts of families, schools, neighbourhoods and social policies.

The research supports several conclusions:

– There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behaviour in the long term.

– There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.

– There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems.

– There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

It also reveals that mounting research evidence shows that physical punishment of children is an ineffective parenting practice comes at a time of decreasing support for physical punishment within the United States and around the world.

The majority of American adults are opposed to physical punishment by school personnel. An increasing number of Americans (now at 29 percent) are opposed to physical punishment by parents. At the same time, there is a growing momentum among other countries to enact legal bans on all forms of physical punishment, bolstered by the fact that the practice has come to be regarded as a violation of international human rights law.

The clear connections between physical abuse and physical punishment that have been made in empirical research and in the child abuse statutes of several states in the US suggest that reduction in parents’ use of physical punishment should be included as integral parts of state and federal child abuse prevention efforts.

Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith: Family discipline in context

June 16, 2009

Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith presented their interim findings from their research at Otago University today at the Families Commission’s Annual Research Seminar.

We’re pleased to be able to bring you a slideshow and audio of their talk.

Audio:

Abstract:

Family discipline is a controversial topic which has been debated for centuries, and which is known to have a lifelong effect on the well being of children. This report provides a snapshot of the views, experiences and practices of a sample of 100 New Zealand families, in relation to the discipline of their preschool children.

Parents/caregivers were asked about what they believed about discipline, how they disciplined their children, and the type of support and stress that they experienced with parenting. The study also looked at the effect of child and family characteristics and context over time, on discipline. The study used a multi-method approach, involving semi-structured parent interviews, parent diaries of disciplinary events over three days in a two week period, and a standardised tool, the Parenting Daily Hassles scale. One hundred and seventeen caregivers comprised the national sample – 99 mothers, 18 fathers, one grandfather and two grandmothers. The findings include the following headings: beliefs about discipline; disciplinary practices; the influence of child and family characteristics, stresses, context and support. The findings suggest a more favourable picture of New Zealand parents’ disciplinary practice than previous research has, showing that the majority of parents took an authoritative (firm but warm) approach, and suggests that professionals who work with families could benefit from professional development programmes focusing on effective approaches to discipline.

Background:

  • Research shows disciplinary practices during childhood have lifelong consequences
  • Most previous research has focused on broad surveys and physical punishment – NZ parents favour relatively negative disciplinary techniques (Ritchie & Ritchie; Maxwell)
  • Need for better parent education and support in context of legal change in NZ
  • Little knowledge of the challenges parents face in using discipline in everyday contexts

Research questions:

  • What do New Zealand families with preschool age children believe about appropriate disciplinary practices for children?
  • What are the range and typical uses of discipline in New Zealand families?
  • How are family disciplinary practices influenced by context and events over time?
  • What type of support (if any) do families receive in their parenting with young children?

Summary of findings:

  • Majority of parents use authoritative or mixed approach (ie sometimes they are permissive)
  • Positive methods (rewards, praise and reasoning) more commonly used than negative methods (smacking or shouting). Timeout the most common punishment.
  • No enthusiasm for physical punishment.
  • Own experience of parenting important – but can be rejected.
  • Books and TV hugely important source of info and support.
  • Family and friends important supports but also early childhood teachers (other professionals less mentioned)

You can also download the presentation (PDF)

Joan Durrant: Child abuse in Sweden and the corporal punishment ban

June 12, 2009

Child Abuse in Sweden
By Joan E. Durrant, Ph.D.
April 9, 2003

For a number of years, various media have carried reports stating that child abuse has increased in Sweden since the passage of the 1979 corporal punishment ban. This statement, which was recently given new life in the Canadian Charter Challenge to Section 43 of the Criminal Code, is completely erroneous. All available evidence indicates that Sweden has been extremely successful in reducing rates of child physical abuse over the past few decades and that reduction has been maintained since the passage of the corporal punishment ban. The purpose of this brief report is to disseminate accurate information on this issue.

1 Reporting Rates vs. Rates of Actual Abuse
The claim that child abuse has increased in Sweden is primarily based on misinterpretation of assault report statistics. It is the case that reporting of child physical assault has increased in Sweden since the 1970s – as it has in every nation that has raised awareness of the issue of child abuse. Reporting rates are by no means equivalent to rates of actual abuse. They are sharp reflections of/strongly tied to shifts in public awareness.

For example, in the early 1960s, it was estimated that about 300 children were being maltreated in the U.S. By 1990, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect had officially recorded 2.4 million reported cases. By 1993, they had recorded almost 3 million cases. It is highly unlikely that actual child maltreatment increased by a factor of 10,000 in that period. It is also highly unlikely that only 300 children were maltreated in the U.S. in the early 1960s.

It is a well-known fact that when mandatory reporting laws, public education campaigns, and other measures are implemented to increase awareness, reporting will increase. This is the goal of such measures. The Swedish reporting figures have been cited as if they are actual rates of abuse, which they are not.

Recently the Swedish National Crime Prevention Council examined 434 cases of assaults on young children within the family that were reported to the police in 1990 (all cases) and 1997 (every other case). It was found that the proportion of cases involving serious injuries sustained by children in this age range had decreased substantially. The majority of reported assaults result in minor injuries or no injuries at all. On the basis of an extensive analysis of the data, the National Crime Prevention Council concluded that there has been an increase in the propensity to report cases of assault on young children, and that it is this increase that is responsible for most, if not all, of the rise in the number of such offences reported to the police (Nilsson, 2000, p. 68).

2 Prevalence of Child Physical Assault Across Time
Studies conducted at various points in time demonstrate that the prevalence, frequency and harshness of assaults against children have declined dramatically in Sweden over the last two generations. Substantial proportions of women who became mothers in the 1950s struck their children at least weekly (e.g., 55% of mothers of 4-year-old daughters; 20% of mothers of 8-year-old sons) (Stattin et al., 1995). Among 3- to 5-year-old children of that generation, implements were used by 13% of mothers (Stattin et al.,1995).

In contrast, 86% of youth who were born in the 1980s report never having been physically punished (Janson, 2001). Of those who were, the vast majority experienced it no more than once or twice in their childhoods (SCB, 1996). Virtually no children are hit with implements in Sweden today.

It is important to note that legislative reform began many decades ago in Sweden. The corporal punishment ban was the end, not the beginning, of legal changes in that country. Most notably, the provision excusing parents who caused minor injuries to their children through physical punishment was repealed from the Swedish Penal Code in 1957. The explicit ban on physical punishment was implemented 22 years later.

3 Child Abuse Fatalities
The incidence of homicides of children under the age of 5 can provide an estimate of child abuse mortality, as it is these children who are most vulnerable to fatal injury and the contribution of other forms of external violence is minimized among this age group. Between 1975 and 2000, the average annual number of homicides of children aged 0 to 4 in Sweden was 4. The average incidence between 1995 and 2000 (2.8) was lower than that between 1975 and 1980 (4.0) – despite population growth.

The World Health Organization (2002) provides homicide incidence figures for children aged 0 to 4 in Sweden (1996), Canada (1997) and the United States (1998).1 These figures are:

Sweden: 3
Canada: 24
United States: 723

(Canada’s population is approximately 3 times larger than Sweden’s. The U.S. population is approximately 20 times larger than Sweden’s.)

Child homicides attributable specifically to physical abuse (excluding homicide-suicides, neonaticide and postnatal depression) are virtually non-existent in Sweden. Between 1976 and 2000 (the most recent year for which statistics are currently available), a total of 4 children died in Sweden as a result of physical abuse.

Summary
There is no evidence to support the claim that child abuse has increased in Sweden since corporal punishment was banned there in 1979. In fact, Sweden has maintained a very low rate of child abuse internationally for more than 25 years.

Three Important Points

  • It is important to note that Sweden’s law was intended to affirm children’s rights; it was not expected to end all abuse of children for all time. North American assault laws have not eliminated assaults against adults, yet we recognize their importance in setting a standard of non-violence for the society, sending a clear message, and affording protection to those who have been harmed. This was the fundamental intent of Sweden’s corporal punishment ban.
  • Legislative reform in Sweden began in 1928, when corporal punishment was forbidden in secondary schools. It was 1957 when the legal defence of reasonable correction was repealed from Sweden’s Penal Code. The ban must be viewed within its historical context to be understood.
  • Since Sweden passed its ban on corporal punishment in 1979, 10 other nations have followed: Finland, Norway, Austria, Denmark, Cyprus, Croatia, Latvia, Israel, Germany, and Iceland. The purpose of these bans is to explicitly recognize children’s rights to protection under the law – the same rights that adults take for granted. In addition, Italy’s highest court has ruled that “the use of violence for educational purposes can no longer be considered lawful.”

1 Rates per population are not available for Sweden and Canada due to their low incidence. Incidence rates are presented here for the most recent years for which data were available in the WHO World Report on Violence and Health (2002).

References
Nilsson, L. (2000). Barnmisshandel: En Kartläggning av Polisanmäld Misshandel av Små Barn. Brottsförebyggande rådet; Stockholm.

Janson, S. (2001). Barn och Misshandel. A Report to the Swedish Governmental Committee on Child Abuse and Related Issues. Statens Offentliga Utredningar; Stockholm.

SCB (1996). Spanking and Other Forms of Physical Punishment: Study of Adults= and Middle School Students= Opinions, Experience, and Knowledge.@ Demografiska Rapporter, 1.2.

Stattin, H., Janson, H., Klackenberg-Larsson, I., & Magnusson, D. (1995). ACorporal punishment in everyday life: An intergenerational perspective. (J. McCord, ed.) Pp 315-347. Cambridge University Press; Cambridge.

World Health Organization (2002). World Report on Violence and Health. Author; Geneva.

Joan E. Durrant, Ph.D., is a Child-Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Family Studies at the University of Manitoba. She is an internationally recognized expert on the Swedish ban. Over the past decade, she has conducted extensive research on this law and has lived in Sweden for extended periods to gain a full understanding of its history, implementation and effects.

Report: Physical punishment of children is not effective in improving behaviour

June 12, 2009

The Centre for Effective Discipline released a report late last year entitled “Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research tells us about its effects on children“.

The report synthesizes one hundred years of social science research and many hundreds of published studies on physical punishment conducted by professionals in the fields of psychology, medicine, education, social work, and sociology, among other fields.

The research supports several conclusions:

  • There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behaviour in the long term.
  • There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.
  • There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems.
  • There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

Download the report.

Ian Hassall: How did we come to have a law that supported hitting children?

June 11, 2009

Ian Hassall, 10 June, 2009

Presentation to a Waitakere Community Gathering re Referendum Section 59, Waitakere Community Resource Centre, 8 Ratanui Street, Henderson, 10th June 2009 from 1 to 3pm.

[You can also download a PDF version of this presentation]

Summary

Hitting children is not a natural part of bringing them up.

It was not a part of traditional child-rearing practice in Maori and Pacific Island societies before colonisation.

It is a habit that New Zealand has inherited from Britain, reinforced by missionary teaching and British law.

It goes against our biological heritage in which full human development relies on a close bond of identity between child and parent in which hitting plays no natural part.

It is notable that, throughout history, doctrine promoting the physical punishment of children has come from male authority figures not mothers.

Section 59: the law that defended striking children

Until two years ago we had a piece of law in New Zealand that said a parent was justified in using force on a child by way of correction if the force used was reasonable in the circumstances.

Crimes Act 1961 Section 59 (1)
“Every parent of a child and …every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.”

Over time many New Zealanders came to see this as bad law and eventually Parliament, by a majority of 113 to 8, substituted a new law which said parental force could not be used for the purpose of correction.

Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 Section 4
“..The purpose of this Act is to amend the principal Act to make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence by abolishing the use of parental force for the purpose of correction.”

What was the effect of repealing s59 of the Crimes Act 1961? It removed a special defence for parents against a charge of assault on their children and subjected such assaults to the same standard for prosecution and determination of guilt as
assaults on other people.

Next month New Zealanders will be asked to respond to a referendum whose aim is to overturn the new law.

NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009
“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

The questions I want to address with reference to the old law are, “How did we come to have such a law?” and “What was wrong with it?” I want to answer these questions because, as George Santayana said, ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ Replacement of the old law was a step forward. The referendum aims to take us a step backward.

How did we come to have such a law?

There are historical, anthropological, sociological, legal, religious and political frames within which the law evolved.

1. First, the historical frame. The dominant group of settlers who arrived in New Zealand in the nineteenth century mainly from Britain brought with them the practice of physical punishment of children. It has persisted here and in other countries colonised by Britain and in the countries of Britain itself. Before colonisation Pasifika and Maori practice was not to punish children. (Salmond, 1991; Makereti, 1998; Wood, Hassall, Hook, Ludbrook, 2008, pp. 92, 124.)

2. Second, the anthropological frame. I want to focus on this because there is an underlying assumption by many people who opposed the 2007 law change that physical punishment is justified because it is natural. This is a view that I strongly dispute.

We have, each one of us, come from an unbroken line of ancestors going back to when
life first emerged on earth. We are survivors and the descendants of survivors. Had a single one of those ancestors not lived to produce offspring the chain would have been broken and we would not be here.

Survival of the young in each generation of that descent line has been a vital part of our history. For aeons survival of tender offspring depended only on good luck and a robust constitution and the ability to stay hidden.

At a certain point a new strategy emerged in which the young were protected and nurtured by their adult kin. It was a survival strategy that appeared many millions of years ago and it has been highly successful. It is one we share with all mammals and many other creatures.

As a species, we have gone further down this path than others. The period during which as children we are highly dependent on our family for protection and nurturance has lengthened in comparison with other species. This is a trait we share to a degree with our immediate primate relatives. So it has had at least three million years to be shaped and developed.

The place of family in ensuring survival of the young is more than the provision of food and warmth. We know that kittens taken from their mothers too early do not develop proper cat behaviour, monkeys reared with unresponsive mechanical ‘mothers’ develop poorly and young chimpanzee orphans are apt to die even though they are provided with adequate food and shelter.

Neuroscientists have explored in human infants this dependence on a parent or surrogate parent for social development. They have found certain aspects of the parent’s behaviour in the relationship between parent and child to be necessary for the child’s social development. In extremely disturbed relationships, there is lifelong seriously impaired functioning which may be accompanied by actual anatomical brain changes. (Glaser, 2000)

Parental love for a child and the accompanying behaviour is a part of our genetic and social inheritance as a species and so is almost universal. As with other species, though, it can be weakened by stressful material and social circumstances, parental disability and inexperience and a non-conforming infant. (Gerhardt, 2004)

In the usual loving, bonded parent child relationship the parent recognises the child’s identity and feelings as not entirely separate from her/his own. Physical chastisement is not a natural part of such a relationship.

An explanation of the law supporting physical chastisement cannot be based on natural behaviour within an anthropological frame. It must either be found in aberrant behaviour within that frame arising from social and environmental stress or in alternative frames.

3. Third, the sociological frame. Physical punishment of children was a custom brought to New Zealand by nineteenth century settlers. The pervasiveness of the custom surprised early researchers, Jane and James Ritchie. Their surveys of young mothers in the sixties and seventies found a majority who regularly and frequently struck their children. (Ritchie & Ritchie, 1970).

The Ritchies also found to their surprise that mothers freely admitted that the smacks they gave together with scolding and shouting were a result of their tiredness, isolation, anger and frustration and were not expected to benefit the children. In other words the legal and moralistic justification for striking children that uses such words as ‘correction’, and ‘punishment’ is no more than a cover for adult frailty.

At the ordinary human level striking children is not a well-judged act from the range of child-rearing behaviour at our disposal, but a lashing out which, in our culture, developed into a socially sanctioned habit. This habit was ritualised in schools, until a law change in 1990, and in households that use the ‘wait until your father comes home’ threat and execution.

4. Fourth, the legal frame. The autocratic power of life and death of fathers over their children was established in Roman law. The English common law followed in modified form in sanctioning parental authority to ‘correct’ a child. In Victorian England the concept of ‘reasonable chastisement’ was written into the law.

Under English law physical punishment was permitted as a means of correction, not only of children but of wives, servants, pupils, apprentices, criminals as well as naval and military personnel. Since then the power to flog, whip, cane, hit and smack has been progressively removed (in England and in its derivative law in New Zealand). With the abolition of corporal punishment in New Zealand schools in 1990, the only remaining circumstance in which human beings could be assaulted without it being an offence was the chastisement of children by parents and those in the place of the parent. (Wood, Hassall, Hook, Ludbrook, 2008, p.71)

Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 was a restatement the justification of the use of force for ‘correction’ on children by their parents. Until the substitution of the new Section 59 in 2007 this law was used successfully to defend parents against charges of assault and set a standard that no doubt led to many other cases of assaults on children not being prosecuted.

5. Fifth, the religious frame. Sections of the Christian Churches, notably of the evangelical movement, have presented the view that children are born evil and must have pain repeatedly inflicted upon them to teach them obedience to God’s will.

“This, therefore, I cannot but earnestly repeat, — break their wills betimes; begin this great work before they can run alone, before they can speak plain, or perhaps speak at all. Whatever pains it cost, conquer their stubbornness: break the will, if you would not damn the child. I adjure you not to neglect, not to delay this! Therefore, (1.) Let a child, from a year old, be taught to fear the rod and to cry softly. In order to do this, (2.) Let him have nothing he cries for; absolutely nothing, great or small; else you undo your own work. (3.) At all events, from that age, make him do as he is bid, if you whip him ten times running to effect it. Let none persuade you it is cruelty to do this; it is cruelty not to do it. Break his will now, and his soul will live, and he will probably bless you to all eternity.” (Wesley, 1784 in Jackson, 1872)

“Children are not little bundles of innocence: they are little bundles of depravity…and can develop into unrestrained agents of evil… unless trained and disciplined. Selfishness, violence, lying, cheating, stealing and other manifestations of rebellion, are just the child unpacking some of this sinful foolishness from the vast store in his heart. ” (Family Integrity website, 2007)

This view has had a considerable influence in changing the behaviour of Maori and Pasifika people toward their children.

6. Sixth, the political frame. The habit of physical punishment of children and its underpinning in the law have been systematically criticised since at least the 1960s. Before that prominent people sensitive to human suffering and damaged relationships had exposed the brutality and futility of the practice. Katherine Mansfield in her 1921 short story, ‘Sixpence’ was one. (Mansfield, 2006)

In 1978 Jane and James Ritchie made a submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Violent Offending calling for an end to corporal punishment in the home and in their 1981 book, ‘Spare the Rod’, mounted a persuasive argument for law reform. (Ritchie & Ritchie, 1981)

The demand for repeal of Section 59 grew, supported by many people and organisations, in particular; parents and parent organisations including Parents Centres, Plunket; child advocacy agencies such as Barnardos, UNICEF New Zealand, Save the Children New Zealand and the Children’s Commissioner; human rights proponents and organisations; anti-violence organisations; professional people in healthcare, social work and the law; community and faith-based groups and citizens from all walks of life. EPOCH New Zealand was set up in 1997 with one of its aims being repeal of Section 59.

Public debate occurred sporadically during this time. A number of private members Bills for repeal or revision of Section 59 were placed in the Parliamentary ballot. The first, introduced in 2002 by the New Zealand First MP, Brian Donnelly was for full repeal. In 2005 Green MP, Sue Bradford’s Bill, also for full repeal, was drawn from the ballot and during its passage through parliament there was intensified debate. The Bill was passed into law in May 2007 with the support of both major parties and the great majority of MPs. The vote on the third reading was won 113 to 8.

What was wrong with the old law?

In the discussion that has surrounded the law change the point is often raised that research shows no detectable harm to children who have been mildly physically punished when compared with children who have had no such punishment. It is true that this is what a considerable body of research shows. One is our own Christchurch longitudinal study. (Fergusson, Lynskey, 1997)

The supporters of the old Section 59 or a variant of it argue that since the effect of the new law is to prohibit something that does no harm it is invalid.

There are a number of objections to this argument. I shall put forward the two main ones as I see them.

1. The first is that it is an offence against common decency, human dignity, justice and the child’s human rights.

The main argument against legally sanctioned assaults on children has never been a question of whether or not it does harm, as can be seen by applying the same argument to assaults on adults.

The law that makes it a criminal offence to assault an adult does not rely for its justification on whether or not it does harm. If evidence was lacking for any ill effects from a certain level of assault by a man on his wife, for example, it would still not be acceptable.

The central issue is not whether or not harm is done but whether or not one person is entitled to assault another. It is a question of rights and human dignity. Women, servants and soldiers, once subject to legally sanctioned corporal punishment are deemed in modern times to have the right to be free from assault and the threat of assault and from the oppression and dehumanisation that accompanies the entitlement of others to inflict pain upon them.

The right of children to physical integrity is recognised by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Twenty-three countries have recognised this right in their law. (Global initiative to end all physical punishment of children, 2009)

To many of us thinking in terms of human rights is rather alien, the sort of thing governments, the United Nations and international agencies do. To me rights are simply expressions of the minimum standard of human behaviour which we know to be right. If we look at hitting children in these terms we know that it is simply wrong.

It feels wrong and when we reflect, we know in our hearts it is wrong. What ordinary parent can recall without remorse the look of fear on the child’s face when they raised their arm to strike?

Even worse, if as parents we have become inured to the fear and pain we cause by hitting our children, what have we become? And if our children over the years become used to us hitting them and regard it as normal, what have they become?

Look at how quickly majority support for hitting children has collapsed in those countries which have banned it. Does this not mean that most parents relied on the justifications of custom and law to support a habit they knew in their hearts to be wrong?

2. The second thing wrong with the old Section 59 is that it did indeed do serious harm but it was less obvious than what the researchers measure because it was indirect and long-term.

The old law propped up a sense of entitlement to strike children. This sense of entitlement, in an angry person with limited self control, can be the beginning of a beating. Surveys of adults found guilty of abuse of children have revealed that usually the episode of abuse began with the intention to punish and escalated. (Gelles & Straus, 1980)

A sense of entitlement over children and the inattention to their interests that goes with it has wider implications. It contributes to a failure to cater for children. Such an attitude is behind not only the high rates of violence to children in New Zealand but the high rates of child poverty and child accidents, the low entitlement to paid parental leave and other aspects of the lives of children in this country that are less favourable when compared with other OECD countries.

Conclusion

If abuse of children is to be reduced, if as a society we are to give children their due and if they are to have the self-confidence and competence to give themselves and their nation a secure place in the world, they must be respected. The close reciprocal relationship between parent and child that is our biological heritage must be respected, protected and promoted for it is the foundation of full human functioning. Hitting has no part in it, least of all hitting that is sanctioned by the law.

References

Fergusson, D., Lynskey, M. (1997) Physical punishment/ maltreatment during childhood and adjustment in young adulthood. Child Abuse and Neglect, 21, 617-630.

Gelles, R., Straus, M. (1980) Intimate violence. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gerhardt, S. ((2004) Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain. Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

Glaser, D. (2000) Child abuse and neglect and the brain – a review. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 97-116.

Global initiative to end all physical punishment of children. Global progress toward prohibiting all corporal punishment. Retrieved 11 June, 2009 from http://endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/pdfs/charts/Chart-Global.pdf

Jackson, T. (Ed.) (1872) Sermon 96: On obedience to parents. In, The sermons of John Wesley 1872 edition. Retrieved 11 June, 2009 from http://wesley.nnu.edu/john_wesley/sermons/096.htm

Makereti (1998) The way it used to be. In Ihimaera, W. (Ed.) Growing up Maori. Auckland: Tandem Press, p24.

Mansfield, K. (2006) The collected stories of Katherine Mansfield. Herts, England: Ware Wordsworth Editions.

Ritchie, J., Ritchie, J. (1970) Child rearing patterns in New Zealand. Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed.

Ritchie, J., Ritchie, J. (1981) Spare the rod. Sydney: George Allen & Unwin.

Salmond, A. (1991) Two worlds: First meetings between Maori and Europeans 1642-1722. Auckland: Viking. P. 422.

Smith, C. The Christian Foundations of the Institution of Corporal Correction. Family Integrity, 2005. Retrieved 11 October, 2007 from the Family Integrity NZ Web Site.

Wood, B., Hassall, I., Hook, G., Ludbrook, R. (2008) Unreasonable force: New Zealand’s journey towards banning the physical punishment of children. Wellington: Save the Children New Zealand.

Ian Hassall is a paediatrician and children’s advocate. He was New Zealand’s first Commissioner for Children and before that Medical Director for the Plunket Society. He is Senior Research Fellow for the Institute of Public Policy at AUT, and part of the Every Child Counts campaign to place children’s interests at the centre of government. He teaches the undergraduate paper, Children and Public Policy.

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

Join us:

register your organisation as a supporter of the yes vote

Get our email updates

Enter your email address:

Follow us on

twitter
 

Popular Subjects on this site

Legal compliance

If you are going to use or distribute material from our campaign in any way, eg remixed or mashed up, please ensure that your actions are compliant with the relevant legislation, as the Yes Vote Coalition cannot take responsibility for actions beyond our control or knowledge.

The bottom line is that we want to play by the rules. We appreciate your support, but please act ethically, thoughtfully, and within the law.

Please see our Legal Disclaimer for more information.

css.php