Posts Tagged reasonable force

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.

Audio: Deborah Morris-Travers talks to 95bFM Paul Deady about the “face punch” trial

May 21, 2009

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.

Key points:

  • 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.

Families Commission welcomes new commissioners Christine Rankin and Bruce Pilbrow

May 12, 2009

The Families Commission is looking forward to working with the two newly announced Commissioners, Christine Rankin and Bruce Pilbrow.

They join five other Commissioners on the Board.  Mr Pilbrow will bring with him his strong interest in parenting and we look forward to working with him.  The Commission is also aware of Ms Rankin’s commitment to the prevention of child abuse and shares her concern about this issue.

It was this shared concern that led the Board to its unanimous decision to support the new child discipline law.   We look forward to hearing Ms Rankin’s thoughts on ways to reduce New Zealand’s high rate of family violence and will welcome her input into our future work on this issue.

The law is working well and is achieving what was intended – parents who are charged with assaulting a child can no longer defend themselves in court by claiming they were using reasonable force to discipline the child.

The Commission’s reasons for supporting the law have not changed.

We based our position on research which shows very clearly that positive parenting strategies (such as rewarding good behaviour and distracting young children and ignoring minor unwanted behaviour) are far more effective and safer than physical punishment.  Research also shows that most child abuse cases begin as physical punishment.  There are risks that smacking can escalate to abuse – and the harder a child is hit, the more damaging it is for their future wellbeing. Hitting children also models violence as a way of resolving conflict.

One of the objectives of law reform was to make the law congruent with positive non-violent parenting messages and the law now clearly states that there is no legal justification for the use of force to correct a child’s behaviour.

This is a direct message to parents encouraging them to use strategies for managing their child’s behaviour that do not include smacking or hitting.

It appears that growing numbers of parents understand this.  A Ministry of Health Survey in mid 2007 showed that only 1 in 22 parents considered physical punishment to be effective.  Of the parents who had actually used physical punishment in the previous four weeks only one in three considered it to be effective.

Healthy, positive relationships within families do not involve people hitting each other and the Commission continues to believe that [the enactment of the Child Discipline Law in 2007] was one step that, combined with other nationwide efforts to address violence, will help us become a violence-free society.

Jan Pryor
Chief Commissioner

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

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