Posts Tagged assault

Sue Bradford: There is no offence called smacking, but there is an offence of assault

August 12, 2009

As I am sure everyone is excruciatingly well aware, we are right now in the middle of the postal referendum on the physical discipline of children.

Voting started on 31 July and finishes on 21 August.

At a cost of $9 million to the taxpayer, the referendum asks:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

I reckon this question is both misleading and ambiguous.

A lot of people tell me they have no intention of voting, or are going to spoil their ballot paper, because they are angry about money being wasted on such a confused proposition.

Other people are keen to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ because they have strong views on the issue and want to vote regardless.

This includes me of course. I will be voting ‘Yes’ and encouraging others to do the same, as I see that voting ‘Yes’ is a vote for keeping the law as it is.

Parents are not being prosecuted in their droves for giving their children a ‘smack’.

There is actually no offence called ‘smacking’ in New Zealand law.

There is, however, an offence of ‘assault’ which has always been there.

What the law change in 2007 achieved was simply the removal of the defence of ‘reasonable force for the purpose of correction’ which in the past allowed some parents to get away with quite badly beating their children.

The ‘reasonable force’ defence also meant parents felt they had a state-sanctioned right to use physical force as a way of disciplining their children.

New Zealand made a huge step forward two years ago when Parliament voted by a huge majority to take away this defence and give our children the same legal protection from violence as we adults enjoy.

I hope that despite the anger people justifiably feel at the way in which money is being wasted on this confused referendum question, some of you at least will consider voting ‘yes’ as an expression of support for the law change.

People often ask me, ‘If you think this question is so ambiguous, what should the question have been?”

Of course it could have been any number of things, but I believe a much fairer question would have been something like ‘Should the defence of reasonable force for the purpose of correction be available to New Zealand parents?’

At least people would then have been a lot clearer on what they were voting for or against.

I have put a member’s bill forward seeking to ensure that in future when someone comes up with a proposal for a citizens’ initiated referendum, the Clerk of the House – who approves these questions – has more legal guidance on what should go forward.

I am suggesting that questions that are ambiguous complex, leading or misleading should not be accepted, and that the proposer keeps working on the question with the Clerk until it is clear and simple.

I am in discussions with the Minister of Justice about this at the moment, and hope the Government may change the law in this area as a result.

Meanwhile, the debate on whether our kids deserve a childhood free from violence continues, and will for a while yet, whatever the result on 21 August.

Family First Advertisements and New Zealand’s Child Discipline Law

June 3, 2009

Once again the public are being subjected to misleading and expensive Family First advertisements in the Sunday papers. Politicians are being lobbied by Family First who are undermining a law that is working well and want to turn the clock back so that parents can assault children within the law.

In 2007 New Zealand’s law changed to give children the same protection under assault law as other citizens in New Zealand. A provision in the 2007 law reminding parents that police have discretion about prosecution in cases of inconsequential assaults means that very few, if any, cases at the lower end of the smacking/hitting spectrum are being prosecuted.

The law change reflects efforts to end the social acceptability of anyone’s right to hit anyone else. Over time, this will lead to better outcomes for children as fewer children will be exposed to violence.

In their most recent attempt to illustrate that “good” parents are being criminalised Family First cited four cases:

In one case investigations were undertaken and no charges laid. In another the parent was charged and then chose to plead guilty. The sentence is not mentioned. In the third the parent was convicted and discharged without penalty.

In two cases the parents concerned were not convicted (and therefore not criminalised). In the second case the parent pleaded guilty himself. And in the other case a discharge without penalty outcome was a compassionate one that sent a message to the parent and society about non-violence, It did not inflict punishment that could cause hardship to the family involved.

Family First seem to be suggesting that Police and CYF should ignore allegations of assault on children. All reports of assault on children should be investigated – there is good evidence that use of physical punishment is a risk factor for child abuse and although not all physical punishment is child abuse. It is appropriate, that if someone is concerned enough to make a report, that the safety of the child or children involved is investigated. Very few, if any cases, of minor assault are leading to prosecution.

Family First need to clearly state their views on what level of assault on children they find acceptable – does it include blows to the head and face for example or striking a child too young too understand how they should be behaving? Do they regard out of control, bad tempered striking out as appropriate parental correction?

We note that Family First are no longer citing the Jimmy Mason “face-punch” case as evidence that the law is not working, as it has in previous ads, and noted in their own press statement that the conviction was “appropriate”.

Family First are clear that they do not approve of child abuse and urge action to address the real causes of child abuse.  But belief in parents’ rights to use physical punishment and belief in its legitimacy as part of child discipline are a real contributing factor to the existence of child abuse. Many children are still beaten because of such beliefs. But Family First do not seem to understand that by sanctioning use of physical discipline they are undermining efforts to reduce abuse.

The Yes Vote Coalition welcomes verdict in child “face-punch” case

May 20, 2009

The guilty verdict in the Christchurch case of a father who punched his child in the face is clearly the right outcome.

“This incident was trivialised as a case of ‘ear flicking’ to discredit the 2007 changes to Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, which provided parents a defence for physical punishment,” says Deborah Morris-Travers, spokesperson for The Yes Vote coalition of child and family focussed organisations who support the Child Discipline Law (Section 59) reforms and are encouraging the public to show support for the law in the forthcoming referendum.

“Now that all the evidence has been heard in a court, this case can be seen for what it is – a serious assault on a child and not the “poster-boy” cause for opponents of the law that was widely portrayed. Arguably, this case never had anything to do with Section 59, given it involved a simple assault.

“However, the Christchurch case demonstrates why it remains so important that New Zealand law clearly opposes violent parenting practices as not only unnecessary and ultimately ineffective, but also damaging for children and family relationships.”

For our children’s sake, let’s be fair and sensible

April 30, 2009

A coalition of organisations committed to positive outcomes for children and families wishes to set the record straight regarding the child discipline law.

After much debate and consideration of opinion and international evidence, this law was passed by both Labour and National and came into effect in May 2007.

It’s time the nation got the straight story on what the law does and doesn’t say, and how it is being used. The law is both fair and sensible.

It clearly states that parents can restrain or physically remove children from a situation to keep them or another safe from harm and to prevent them from engaging in any criminal, offensive or disruptive behaviour.

Parents can, of course, also perform the normal daily tasks that are part of good care and parenting, such as carrying a child to their room at bedtime, even if they protest; or holding them back from running onto the road; and enforcing boundaries, such as stopping them from hurting another person or an animal, shouting in a restaurant; and other disruptive behaviour.  Fair and sensible.

It does not allow the use of force for the purpose of correction. Children and adults now have equal protection under the law from all forms of assault. Fair at last.

It also clearly states that the police are not expected to prosecute in cases where assaults are very minor. Police monitoring of their activity in this area shows no significant increase in complaints, investigations or prosecutions. This information is on the police website for anyone to read and parents can be reassured. Again, fair and sensible.

So, physical punishment is out, positive parenting is in. Love, warmth, guidance, encouragement, clear boundaries – these are the parenting strategies that work and that support children so they know what is expected of them, what the rules are, and at the same time they feel valued and loved.

So let’s clear up the confusion. Let’s be fair and sensible and simply get on with supporting each other to love and nurture our children.

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

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