Posts Tagged anti-smacking referendum

NZ’s premier debating society hosts a show down

August 7, 2009

Do parents have the right to smack their children?

The referendum on smacking is sparking controversy nationwide. As a result New Zealand’s premier debating society is hosting a show down between prominent Yes and No Voters in 2009.

The debate; open to the public, with entry by gold coin koha, is being organised by the Victoria University Debating Society and is sponsored by the University.

Side affirmative will be represented by champion student debater Udayan Mukherjee, commentator and former journalist Dave Crampton (who blogs at http://big-news.blogspot.com) and Wellington lawyer Michael Mabbett.

Green Party MP Sue Bradford will speak for the negative side, as will founder of Lobby Group EPOCH and former UNICEF NZ Advocacy Manager and Beth Wood.  They will be joined by Victoria University Debating Society President Polly Higbee.

Each debater will have around ten minutes to speak, and a show of hands at the end will determine the winner.

Tea and coffee (and heated discussion) will be served after the debate.

  • Details:

“That parents have the right to smack their children”

Monday August 10, 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Lecture Theatre One,

Rutherford House, Pipitea Campus, Victoria University

Making sense of police statistics

July 18, 2009

On 10 July 2009 the Police released their 4th six-monthly report on Police activity since the statutory defence for assault on a child was removed from the Crimes Act 1961.

In an article printed in the New Zealand Herald [11 July] –  “Big jump in child assaults reports” by  Simon Collins claims that the number of minor assaults reported to the police has jumped 40% since the three month period before the law change.  Taken at face value this could be interpreted as the 2007 law leading to a huge increase in the number of “good” parents being referred to the Police for correcting their children by simply smacking them. This is not the case.

To understand why, it’s important to knowhow the Police categorise the cases they report on.  Police do not spell out the nature of the events involved in the cases they report but only say that, The terms “smacking”, “minor acts of physical discipline” and “other child assaults” are terms created for monitoring purposes so that the reviews accurately reflect the complex nature and context of each case.  But in fact they represent a hierarchy with “other child assaults” being the heavier end of physical punishment.

By putting the categories together, looking at monthly averages and coming up with the 40% figure Simon creates a misleading impression.

If we use Simon’s average per month approach separately for each category we find that where “smacking” is concerned there is less than a 1% increase between the three month period before the law change and the figures reported in the last Police review.  But in fact the numbers reported are so small that it is nonsense to talk percentages at all. About 1 case a month in the three month before law change and about 1.03 in the last review period is not a statistically significant change.

Looking at the “minor acts of physical discipline category” we find that there has been a 100% increase between the three month period before law reform and the last set of figures.  But in fact we are talking about the difference between say 3 cases a month and 6 cases a month – again too small a number to be meaningful.

In the third category “Other Child Assault” we are looking at a rise from about 27 cases a month to 34 cases a month in the relevant periods – a little over 25% increase – but again 7 cases is not a statistically significant change.

The slight increase in reporting at the heavier ends of physical punishment should be interpreted positively – as demonstrating a greater willingness on the part of the public to report concerns about the way a child is treated – and as making more opportunities for parents to be given support and guidance to manage their children’s behaviour in more positive ways.

The case of the Christchurch ‘ear-flick’ Dad who apparently punched his child on the face and was given an anger management sentence illustrates the point.

We must also keep in mind that the total number of prosecutions in the  “smacking” and minor acts of physical discipline categories has been vey small over the whole period.

Young people urged to vote online on Referendum 09

July 18, 2009

Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) are holding an online referendum of their own and are encouraging young people to log on and vote.

SAVE chair, Johny O’Donnell says: “The time has come for youth to stand up and make their opinions heard on Referendum 09 and SAVE is proud to provide that opportunity.”

If you are under 25 – or know someone who is – please take this referendum survey at:

www.savemovement.org/yesvotevoice.html

“Spread this message, post up on Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and Twitter,” he says. “Let’s get the message out there that young people deserve a say!”

Results will be posted on the SAVE website, sent to the media and to Yes and No vote websites and well as all 121 MPs.

Child discipline referendum will not give clarity

July 17, 2009

Press Release: Caritas Aotearoa

Caritas says child discipline referendum will not provide clarity.

Catholic social justice agency Caritas says the upcoming referendum on child discipline will not provide clarity on the issue. “Funding for the referendum could have been better used on family education,” says Director Mike Smith.

Caritas supports the 2007 amendment that was eventually made to Section 59 of the Crimes Act, and wishes to see the legal status quo maintained, regardless of the referendum outcome.

The debate leading up to the law change was always about balancing child protection and family subsidiarity – the ability of families to make decisions for themselves without undue government interference.

“Caritas submitted in 2006 that Catholic social teaching required that both be taken into account. In our opinion, that meant giving greater protection for children, and also defining the threshold for prosecution,” says Mr Smith.

“The final wording of the amendment regarding police discretion not to prosecute for ‘inconsequential’ acts met our concerns. It was also in line with the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference 2007 statement on the issue: Children are precious gifts, which also sought a solution between polarised extremes of the debate at that time.”

Mr Smith says the upcoming referendum will not provide clarity on the question of child discipline, because it is possible to support the 2007 amendment while voting either Yes or No to the referendum question: Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

However, Caritas recognises that in the political context of the referendum, a ‘Yes’ vote is seen to be a vote for the status quo, while a ‘No’ vote is seen to be a vote against the 2007 amendment.

“In this context, we recommend a ‘Yes’ vote, as we believe the status quo is close to the position that we recommended to the Select Committee. However, the wording of the question is so ambiguous, many New Zealanders who support efforts to reduce violence against children, may in good conscience still feel obliged to vote ‘No’. It will be hard to understand what the outcome of the referendum may mean,” says Mr Smith.

He says Caritas will be writing to the Prime Minister and other relevant politicians, expressing concern that the ambiguous nature of the question will result in an outcome that cannot be understood as either supporting or opposing the 2007 amendment.

“We will make it clear that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, we support the 2007 amendment to the Crimes Act. This was the best compromise able to be found at the time which increased child protection, while also taking into account the subsidiarity of families and preventing unnecessary prosecutions.”

Mr Smith says protecting children from physical violence requires action in many other areas, including parental education on alternatives to physical punishment. “In the best interests of families, we would like to see parents able to increase their knowledge of options they have to control their children’s behaviour. That’s where funds could have been better used.”

  • Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 164 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

Encouragement from a former Commissioner for Children in Tasmania

July 15, 2009

Dear YesVote team

New Zealand has shown real moral leadership with their law reform on physical punishment for children and I congratulate all who worked hard for the repeal of an unjust law against children. I strongly support your endeavours in opposing the unethical and misguided referendum question soon to be put to the vote .

I want to comment on the upcoming referendum on “smacking”.

I am not surprised that both your Prime Minister and Opposition leader will not be voting in a referendum that is so awkward and misleading in its wording. Their concerns reportedly include the fact that the question can be seen in many ways and that voting will send a wrong message. I agree with them but I worry that those not in favour of smacking will let those who are, win by abstaining from the vote. Yet if only a small number actually vote, or vote “no”, that in itself should send a strong message to the public and government. Nevertheless I encourage supporters of children’s safety to register a strong “yes” vote.

I have seen reports in the Weekend Australian (5/7/09), about two recent cases you had in Wellington and Christchurch. In one a father appears to have pushed a 7 year old child at a sports event repeatedly and another had intentional forced contact with his 4 year old son’s ear in a park. Can either be classified as a “smack” as one was repeated pushing to the ground and the other a “cuff” to the ear? Both would have been hurtful and humiliating to the children, but sadly it appears that some in favour of the use of smacking as a “good” parenting tool may be using these cases to support theirs. I wonder if I can ask a few questions about the terms of the referendum and these cases?

  • Do these acts of pushing and striking amount to “smacks” to opposers of reform?
  • Are these parental actions loving acts?
  • Do they show parental respect for the child’s perspectives and worries?
  • Are they examples of “good” parenting?
  • Can homes with such activities be homes filled with love?
  • Do those who believe this is good parenting believe in “light” smacks too?
  • Do voters really want to permit such adult misbehaviour against children?
  • How can “good “parenting include actions that police class as assaults?
  • How is teaching children by smacking them “good” parenting?
  • Is it “good” practice to smack under 18s like apprentices, cadets etc?
  • Will such under 18s learn better with this type of teaching tool?
  • Is it not illegal to teach horses, dogs and circus animals by smacking them?
  • Should the small number of charges require a change in the new law?
  • Why would members of parliament change the law that a majority accepted?
  • Why is it OK to use such large funding to promote the cause of those who want to hit children?

New Zealand has been a fine example to other countries where child advocates speak out for law reform on legalised physical punishment too. I hope for the sake of the children of the world that your politicians remain steadfast in their support for equal protection for children.

Best wishes

Patmalar Ambikapathy

Barrister and Human Rights Consultant for Children

The economics of whacking kids

July 13, 2009

By Colin James

An enrolment deadline for the yes-means-no/no-means-yes referendum passed on Friday. Have you worked out how to vote? Will you vote?

Why vote? It is only indicative. MPs ignored the 82-92 per cent majority votes in the three previous citizens-initiated referendums, in 1995 on the number of firemen and in 1999 on reducing the number of seats in Parliament and on the needs of victims and minimum and hard labour sentences.

Major-party politicians are not keen to reopen the wounds of 2007 when the Crimes Act defence of reasonable force in disciplining children was abolished. Labour backed Sue Bradford’s bill as an article of faith. National brokered the awkward compromise as an article of politics to avoid losing women’s votes.

Whacking may well be going the way of abortion, settled by a messy compromise in 1977. Abortion still excites the minorities for “choice” and for “life” but it is parked offstage with the Abortion Supervisory Committee.

Two issues are at stake in the whacking/smacking referendum.

One is the value and future of non-binding citizens-initiated referendums.

The hurdle petitioners must clear is high. Parliament’s Clerk must approve the wording and petitioners must get a sample-checked 10 per cent of enrolled electors to sign.

Then petitioners need a credible turnout. This is guaranteed when the referendum runs alongside a general election (as in the two in 1999) or voters see it as important. Turnout in the firemen’s referendum in non-election-year 1995 was a derisory 27 per cent. (Turnout in the compulsory retirement savings referendum in non-election-year 1997 was 80 per cent but that was government-initiated.)

Postal voting, introduced in 2000 and applied to the whacking-smacking referendum, might better the firemen’s 27 per cent. But would even a 90 per cent majority on a 40 per cent turnout in next month’s referendum be convincing? Opponents of MMP questioned the validity of the 54 per cent majority on an 85 per cent turnout in that government-initiated referendum.

Turnout is one objection opponents raise against making citizens-initiated referendums binding (as they are in many United States states and in Switzerland). The topic’s public policy importance is another: the firemen vote was an issue for phone-in polling, not one in which most citizens felt they had a real stake.

Comprehensibility is a third test: can the question be answered by yes or no, can voters be effectively educated so they can make an informed decision and is the question clear? The back-to-front wording of next month’s vote has confused some voters. And so far the educating has been done by protagonists and is most likely to be heard by those voters who themselves have strong views.

That highlights the second issue in the referendum: its substance.

Fact: the police reported on Friday that from October to April they attended 279 child assault “events” which “were most likely to identify ‘smacking’-type incidents”. (The total of child assault “events” was much higher. The new law has not stopped whacking.)

Of the 279, eight involved actual smacking (not whacking) and none of those eight resulted in a prosecution, though four were referred to Child, Youth and Family or a family conference — more than smacking was involved. (Of 39 acts of “minor violence”, eight were prosecuted.)

That doesn’t sound like widespread persecution of good parents who smack.

Most of the referendum debate is at that level: the rights of the child versus parents’ rights. Civilised societies have (slowly, over centuries) been coming to deem that if a child’s rights are abused by parents, society as a whole has a duty to assert the child’s rights.

The whole society has an intimate interest in those rights, as it does of the rights of all “minorities” and defenceless individuals. Social cohesion demands it, as much as ethics. A child belongs to all of society, not just its parents.

But society also has another interest in its children: an economic interest.

A child ill-treated in the womb by a smoking, drinking, poorly-fed mother starts with a handicap. That handicap is made greater by poor nutrition, inattention to cognitive development or violence in the early years of life.

That handicapped child will do poorly at pre-school and school and will be more likely as a teenager to go off the rails or develop mental illness and less likely as an adult to be a productive worker and taxpayer. Worse, that child may as an adult be a charge on society as an addict, beneficiary or criminal or a charge on the state as a prisoner.

Intervening to assure those children a reasonable start is expensive and intrusive. But it is an investment, with a quantifiable return. John Key’s new scientific adviser, Peter Gluckman, has led international work on the science and economics of that.

It is an investment Key has hinted he will make. Whether he does will be a central test of his prime ministership — far greater than a muddled referendum.

  • First published in the Dominion Post and Otago Daily Times, July 13, 09
  • ColinJames@synapsis.co.nz

Youth advocates show initiative

July 10, 2009

save-banners

Youth advocates for YES vote have formed a group called Students Against Violence (SAVE) and yesterday launched a set of novel car stickers. One of its organisers, Johny O’Donnell, 15, said the smacking debate was focusing on the rights of parents to hit their children, and overlooked the rights of children not to be hit.

Based in Nelson, they are keen to get other teens on the campaign trail. Contact details are on their website.

Yes vote discussion on Access Radio

July 10, 2009

Deborah Morris-Travers joins the team at Access Radio’s Collaborative Voices to discuss why people should vote “YES”

Nelson teens urge vote for right not to be hit

July 9, 2009

A group of students campaigning against violence are asking adults to “speak for them” by voting “yes” in August’s smacking referendum according to a story in the Nelson Mail.

Students Against Violence (Save) founding member Johny O’Donnell, 15, said the smacking debate was focusing on the rights of parents to hit their children, and overlooked the rights of children not to be hit.

A student at Nelson College, he told the Mail he was one of five people who turned up to hear long-time child advocate Beth Wood speak on the referendum at the Victory Community Centre.

He said Save intended to have a stand at the Saturday market on the issue. It wanted to do more but was constrained by a lack of funds.

He helped set up Save in Nelson in March as he believed many young people were affected by violence

Maori Party reaffirms its support for children

July 9, 2009

Maori Party supports rights for children and opposes any violence

Maori Party supports rights for children and opposes any violence

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

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