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.
Barrister and Human Rights Consultant for Children
Why am I supporting the Yes Vote Team? For a number of reasons.
First, there’s the pragmatic reason.
Ten years ago I didn’t think much about Section 59 of the Crimes Act, but then I was assigned to write a feature for North & South magazine on the short life and cruel death of James Whakaruru. I interviewed the families of James and his killer and I realised, to my horror, that it wasn’t just a “light smack” used as everyday discipline, but jug cords, vacuum cleaner pipes, belts, closed fists, pieces of wood – anything close at hand when tempers were lost.
Members of the whanau argued with me, even as the earth on James’ grave was still fresh and the little windmills fluttered in the Hawke’s Bay breeze, this was acceptable if their children were naughty. Misbehaviour was defined as not eating their food, answering back or not answering back depending on the mood of the parent, making a mess – in fact any behaviour seemed to depend on what side of bed the parents got out of.
With some people you can educate and persuade as much as you like but you’re never going to make a difference. I believe you have to accept that laws must be changed if children’s lives are to made better. I accept that children will still die – sadly – and children will still be bashed, but there will be parents whose behaviour will be moderated because it is against the law to smack, belt, slap or whatever you like to call it.
You only have to look at smoking laws, or seatbelt laws, to see how they have changed people’s habits.
Secondly, the philosophical reason. I believe in the non-initiation of force, so why shouldn’t that apply to children as well as adults? Why should children have a lesser defence in court when they have suffered violence?
If I give my husband a shove, or a flick over the ear, or even a smack on the bottom, that is assault. There is no defence. If he lays a complaint and it goes to court, I cannot use “reasonable force” as defence because my husband might have come home late from the pub for the fifth time that week and needed some discipline.
So why should a child, who may have suffered similar initiation of force against their person, not be similarly protected? A child is a human being, with the same powers of reason as an adult – a mind, a heart, a brain. A child is not an “almost human being”.
Thirdly, getting rid of Nanny State. Eh?
Yes, you read that correctly, I want Nanny State out of our lives. Therefore the same law should apply to adults and children (though I am happy with the John Key amendment as it stands).
The pro-smackers who claim Nanny State is telling parents how to raise their children by banning smacking are actually doing more of the same by telling parents what kind of smack they can give their children. Act MP John Boscawen wants a new Bill which would allow a light smack. This is just another politician butting in with another law. Sue Bradford’s Bill actually got Nanny State out of people’s lives, but there was so much hysteria, nobody seemed to realise that.
I don’t expect miracles from Sue Bradford’s law change but hopefully, in the next few decades, we might see a shift in attitudes toward children in this country. It doesn’t help when issues are poisoned, and people like Christine Rankin are applauded for polarising the debate. It’s not simply a case of leftie versus rightie; Commie versus Christian. Jesus said suffer the little children to come to me, but Family First backs a father who allegedly repeatedly pushed over his little boy on the rugby field.
Loving smack? No such thing. How about hateful hug? And finally, consider this. Within marriage, rape was once legal between man and wife because marriage was taken as consent. Imagine we were campaigning to change the law, and those who opposed the amendment had written a referendum question which asked: “Should forced sex as part of a good marriage be a criminal act?”
In today’s Herald, Brian Rudman points out that the $8.9M being spent on the referendum is equivalent to half the money that the government spends on adult education, or a quarter of what Barnardos spends each year on helping children in need.
For all their fear-mongering, the pro-smackers have been unable to produce any evidence to back their claims that good parents will be marched off to slappers prison. The best they could come up with as a poster boy for their cause was Christchurch musician and father-of-six, Jimmy Mason. A month ago he was convicted of assaulting his 4-year-old son.
He was dubbed the “ear-flick dad” but witnesses and even he told a different story.
A witness saw him yelling at the boy in downtown Christchurch, saw him yank his ear and hit him in the face with a closed fist. Mr Mason’s version was he gave the boy “a bloody good flick” because he was “being a prat”.
A policewoman testified he repeatedly shouting “f … ing listen” to the child and told her “I hit the big one in the face and that is what I do …”
Later, on what passes as television current affairs these days, Mr Mason was given the chance to recreate his attempts to teach his youngsters safe bike riding practices.
He thought better of repeating the physical violence, or the angry swearing. But if he’s the best the smackers can do by way of a martyr figure, they should apologise for wasting our time – and money.
Witnesses also said that Mason was repeatedly shouting “f**ing listen!” at his two children. He seems to have been so insensible to his own behaviour that he told the first police officer on the scene “I hit the big one in the face and that is what I do and that lady [the witness] can mind her own business.”
Bob McCoskrie says in the Herald, “… there was a concern that Mason may have been found guilty for only the ear-pull, as the actions of punching, and pulling the ear, were wrapped up in the same police charge. If that’s the case, then it’s a decision that does concerns us. We would like that clarified to understand how the law is being interpreted by the police and the courts.”
That’s not the case and if McCoskrie had any honesty at all he would admit it. Jimmy Mason hit his four year-old son in the face with a closed fist. That’s what happened.
On 19 May 2009 a Christchurch father was found guilty of assaulting his son by flicking his ear and punching him in the face. While there has been a lot said about whether the father would have been prosecuted and found guilty under the old law, or should have been prosecuted at all, there has been no examination of case from a parenting perspective.
Dr Joan Durrant, in her book, Positive Discipline: What it is and how to do it, tells us that positive discipline is a way of thinking that focuses on identifying long term goals for children, providing warmth and structure, understanding how children think and feel and teaching problem solving. Key long term goals include encouraging the development of self-discipline and learning to take responsibility. A parent’s role includes guiding the child’s behaviour and modelling appropriate behaviour.
Were the Christchurch children shown by the father what he expected of them at the park and were safety issues explained and demonstrated to them? We don’t know. When the children behaved in a risky fashion and were “corrected” did they understand why their father was so angry? What did they learn from the experience? Perhaps just that when you are really angry its ok to hurt someone. Were they better informed about how to keep themselves safe in the future? Did they feel secure in their relationship with their father? These are relevant questions to ask ourselves when we think about how to respond to our children’s behaviour.
bFM Wednesday Wire’s Paul Deady talked to Deborah Morris-Travers yesterday, and the result was an unusually thorough discussion of the real issues behind the Christchurch “face punch” trial which has been trivialised by many in the mainstream media and in the odd lobby of people who think it’s OK to hit children.
Deborah also discusses the upcoming referendum, and why your YES Vote is so important.
It’s significant that it was a jury ruling
The Police had discretion to prosecution, and police the six-monthly reports issued since the 2007 law change show that they are only prosecuting cases where parents have seriously injured their children
The court sentences being handed down in these cases are usually anger management and parenting education courses – which seems entirely appropriate, and provides additional support to the offenders to do their jobs properly as parents.
Parents are not being criminalised – The public is being seriously misled by groups like Family First and the Kiwi Party who are pro-violence against children. These groups have sought to minimise the significance of the issue by referring to this case as the “ear-flicking” case.
These groups collected enough signatures to force an unnecessary and expensive referendum on a stupidly worded question.
Smacking Children is not good parental correction, and there are 92 international studies that show that positive parenting is better, and that hitting children is harmful.
A YES VOTE promotes positive parenting and supports children.
Independent of the Referendum, the Child Discipline Law is scheduled to undergo a full review by the Ministry of Social Development later this year.
John Key has said repeatedly that the law is working well and National continues to support the law.
Public perception of the law is strong – a recent UMR Research poll showed that 43% of the public support the law, 28% are opposed, and the rest are undecided.
Children attain the best behaviour outcomes when they live in an environment that includes good structure, clear boundaries, warm communication, and love.
In homes where parents use violence against their children to correct their behaviour over four years or more, the violence tends to escalate. In many homes where children are abused, the parents say that it started out as punishment, but the punishment has gone badly wrong.
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.”
The guilty verdict in the Christchurch child assault case was always likely. Why would the bystanders have called the police and why would the police have taken a prosecution unless there had been a serious assault? The ear flicking label was given by the father and taken up by the media and the child-beating lobby. It was always an unlikely story.
The trouble is that this has supported the father in his self-justification instead of helping him to find a way of dealing with the violence in his relationship with his children.
Sections of the media seem determined to trivialise this issue. They have run with the ‘anti-smacking bill’ headline for four years. Why did they take at face value the father’s ear-flicking story when witnesses were saying it was a punch in the face? There is a difference.
I’m glad the judge has signalled that he intends to impose a supportive sentence – perhaps an anger management course. I don’t want to join the punishers. A man who has the kind of relationship with his children where he erupts in anger and loses control, in broad daylight, in a busy city precinct needs some help.
This case is not primarily about Section 59. A punch in the face wouldn’t have been seen as ‘reasonable force’ under the old law. Even the child-beating lobby admit it’s going too far.
The case does underline the point though, that the high-sounding phrase, ‘reasonable force by way of correction’ is often just an excuse for lashing out after having lost your temper. The problem is not so much losing your temper – most of us have done that with our children – as believing this entitles you to strike them. In 2007, the new Child Discipline Law removed this excuse.
A Yes Vote supports this law, and sends a clear message to parents that there are better ways of disciplining children.
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.
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