Posts Tagged referendum

Toni Christie: Spare the rod and free the child

May 17, 2009

I support the new law regarding child discipline – it is an important step in the way forward for a more peaceful and positive New Zealand.

I am the Principal of Childspace, a group of five private child-care centres and a mother of two children who have never been smacked.  I am a member of Amnesty International Children’s Rights network and also a passionate anti-smacker.

I believe the upcoming referendum on the Child Discipline Law is absolutely ridiculous, expensive, and unnecessary.

Shifting societal attitudes no longer condone smacking as a socially acceptable form of punishment for our children.  The more we learn and understand about young children the less acceptable smacking becomes.  This can very easily be illustrated by the opinions of our own country’s top experts on early childhood, education, and children’s rights.  I would challenge anyone to find a leader in any of these fields who condones smacking.

Ian Hassall’s book “Hitting children – unjust, unwise and unnecessary” (1993) is crystal clear.   Prior to the law reform in 2007 he stated that “…research evidence is that it [hitting] is a poor way of inducing good behaviour and performance.”  He goes on to point out that “…the law does not permit us to inflict pain on anyone other than our children.”  Animals are afforded greater protection by law.  Trespassers are also afforded better protection by law as section 56 of the Crimes Act allows the use of reasonable force except with a blow or an object.  So no wooden spoons or belts for trespassers!

There used to be a commonly held view among New Zealanders that children require the occasional smack to keep them in line.  In fact at a party prior to reform I broached the subject with a group of people who didn’t yet have children of their own.  Most were emphatic that they would be using smacking as a punishment for their as yet unborn children.  Upon further questioning it seemed their rationale for this was that they were smacked and they turned out alright.  It is exactly this cultural norm that the law change has challenged.  It can only be positive for the children in this country that we are now sending a message to present and future parents that smacking is an inappropriate and illegal reaction for an adult to have towards their child.

Not so long ago society argued that women, slaves and prisoners must be kept in line by the use of physical force.  These are now considered part of a barbaric and ignorant past.  There are not many things we could be sure of one hundred years from now but one of them is that it will no longer be legal or socially acceptable to bring harm to your own children.  This also will be considered part of our barbaric and ignorant past.

I was smacked when I was a child and I can still remember my mother reaching for the hairbrush she used to smack me.  I can also remember her placing her hands around my throat and telling me that sometimes she could just strangle me.  Is this justified and reasonable force?  Or is it out of control parental anger sanctioned by the law?  Either way I cannot blame my mother because she was young, poor, and living in a society where her elders, peers, and the law saw physical violence toward children as acceptable.   Now we know better and we must help educate parents about how to teach children in non-violent ways.

In the early childhood programmes for which I am responsible we spend a great deal of time and effort modelling and teaching the children appropriate ways of dealing with angry or frustrated feelings.  The children pick up our non-violent approach very easily. We do, however have families where we know smacking is the method for dealing with these feelings and the impact on those children is huge.  They are quicker to anger, less emotionally stable, have shorter attention spans, more inclined towards bullying and less likely to behave appropriately.  These children also tend to come from less educated family backgrounds than their peers. In her 1993 report on physical punishment in the home in New Zealand,  Gabrielle Maxwell concludes that “The most highly educated group were more likely to report explaining and discussing matters.  They were less likely to report telling off, yelling, or smacking. ”

The 2007 Child Discipline Law was such a positive thing for the future of our country.  It would be criminal to amend it in any way now.  Children are not parental possessions, they are people with rights of their own.  Questioning of the practice of hitting children tends to make people feel uncomfortable.  Perhaps they have not questioned the practice themselves?  Perhaps they have an idea that it isn’t quite right?  Perhaps they now feel some guilt that it was their practice as a parent in the past?

Bringing in the 2007 law has been a consciousness-raising exercise.  It would be naïve to suggest that it has eliminated the practice completely, and it is simply scaremongering to suggest that parents will be charged for a light and occasional smack.  But it is making parents question their reasons for wanting to smack their children.  Just as not all wives are safe from spousal abuse, not all children are safe from smacking, but any law change that reduces the violence in any form has always been a change for the good of society.

New Zealand was one of 193 countries to ratify the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child.  Article 19 of the Convention clearly states that legislative measures should be made to ensure children are safe from physical violence while in the care of their parents.  Since the 2007 law change, we are complying with our obligations under the convention.  Let’s not turn back the clock on this.

Should we be teaching children to rule with force?  Could our country become a more peaceful place to live if children were safe from violence inflicted by the people they love most in the place they should feel most safe?  Spare the rod and free the child. 

Vote “YES” in referendum 2009.

Youth Week Poll: Should children and young people have the same legal protections from assault as all other citizens have?

May 7, 2009

The Youth Week website is running a poll on the question:

Should children and young people have the same legal protections from assault as all other citizens have?

This is a much more clearly worded question than the one we’ll be voting on in August, put forth by a group with much more sincere motives the the folks who brought you the current referendum.

We suggest that you consider a Yes Vote on this poll too – go and vote in it!

Barbara Lambourn: Why I have no choice but to vote Yes

April 30, 2009

I’m voting YES in the referendum.

I thought about not voting at all and I thought about voting YES and NO and so having my vote discounted.

I won’t vote NO because that opens up risk of returning to the situation we had before Section 59 of the Crimes Act was amended in 2007. This allowed people to defend assaulting children as an act of correction using “reasonable force in the circumstances?” Many of those terrible acts of cruelty to children that are now embedded in our grim legend of child abuse began as physical punishment, intending to teach the child a lesson.

I have thought about the question and discussed it with others and have come to the view that YES is my answer because I support the law. It is working as intended. Parents are not being criminalised for trivial offences.

I acclaim the Parliament of 2007 that stood up for children’s right to be protected from any form of assault, just as every other group of people in the country are.

No one is allowed to hit women, prisoners, soldiers, sailors, apprentices, old people, bad drivers or politicians as part of correcting their behaviour. And now the same protection extends to our children – no one can claim “reasonable force” as a defence for assaulting a child in the name of discipline.

Many of our European colleagues in the child rights movements are amazed that we are even having this debate. Children there are treated with the same regard and have the same protections as any other citizen. The UK is grappling with defining reasonable force and finding out what an extremely problematic exercise it is.

As our law becomes more and more integrated into our culture of child rearing we will wonder what on earth the fuss was about. It is clear from many studies and common parental wisdom that assault (and any form of hitting is an assault) is not necessary for, nor appropriate to, good parental correction.

The referendum question is tricky ….”should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Say No and risk opening the door again for people to smack, slap, hit, biff, bash, cuff, clobber and clout a child and claim that it’s reasonable correction.

Say Yes and you will maybe be open to the accusation that good parents should be criminalised for trivial offences.

In the two years of the law the Police have used their discretion to prosecute with wisdom and integrity. It is interesting that cases reported to Police have not risen significantly and that more parents are asking for and receiving information about appropriate and constructive discipline.

It is a shameful indictment on those who oppose the legislation that protects children have forced the situation that we will now spend something like $8m on a referendum to consider whether we should be allowed to assault children.

Even those who vigorously supported the call for the referendum have now questioned the need for it… a Press Release from Family First on 25 February said “If the government is serious about cost cutting, tightening our financial belts and prioritised spending to the frontline, it makes far more sense to divert that amount of money to more teachers, nurses, doctors and cops.”

I agree, and would love to see $8m spent supporting parents to learn constructive ways to guide and discipline their children – that would make a real difference to children, families, communities and society as whole. The Roper Report of 1989 told us that the home is the crucible of violence … eliminate it there and we have a blueprint for a safer, child friendly and less violent future.

So it’s definitely YES from me and, I hope, YES from you.
A YES vote supports a good law.

Barbara Lambourn is the National Advocacy Manager for Unicef NZ.

FAQ: Why is the referendum worded so poorly?

April 27, 2009

Q: How did the petition organisers get away with formulating such a dishonest question in the first place, and then getting it accepted for a referendum in the second place?

A: The petitioners submitted their question to the Electoral Commission and there were insufficient objections to require the question to be changed. A significant objection was raised by the Ministry of Justice but this was ignored.  The question was approved and once 10 percent of registered votes signed the petition there was no going back.

You can also view the answers to more Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Frequently Asked Questions about the Referendum

April 23, 2009

We’ve just added a Frequently Asked Questions page to

If you have a question about the referendum or the Child Discipline Law that is not answered on the site, you can submit it, and we will consider answering it on the faq page.

Current questions include:

1. Why is a referendum being held on this issue?
2. Why is this particular question being asked?
3. Why are community organisations supporting a Yes vote in the referendum?
4. Is the referendum binding on the government?
5. Why was the change necessary in the first place? Most parents don’t want to hit their children and only use hitting or smacking as a last resort.
6. Doesn’t the law mean that good parents who give their children a light smack will end up as criminals?
7. Doesn’t this cut across parents’ rights to bring their children up in the way they see fit?
8. Shouldn’t parents just be left to get on with bringing up their own children in the way that best suits them, rather than having nanny-state interference?
9. What was the point in changing the law because parents who abuse children will not stop just because of this legislation?
10. It won’t stop the real abuse that’s out there so shouldn’t we instead be focussed on real child abusers and not good parents trying to do a good job?
11. Doesn’t the law create confusion given that Police can use their discretion about whether or not to prosecute?
12. Won’t children grow up spoilt and badly behaved, as the saying goes “spare the rod and spoil the child”?
13. Is it true that most New Zealanders don’t support the legislation, and doesn’t this mean the law needs to be revised?

… All on the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Referendum question is questionable

April 16, 2009

Thought should be given to challenging, by way of judicial review, the wording of the question to be put to New Zealanders in a referendum later this year, according to Wellington consultant and child rights expert Robert Ludbrook.

The referendum question is:
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

“It will be immediately obvious that the question is questionable,” Robert Ludbrook says.

“The words ‘a smack as part of good parental correction’ are objectionable for several reasons. These are:

  • The word ‘good’ before ‘parental correction’ makes a value judgment which predetermines the answer. People answering the question will be drawn to answer ‘no’ on the basis that what is ‘good’ cannot be ‘bad’ (that is, criminal). It would be absurd to answer ‘yes’ because it would saying that an action which is good should be a criminal offence.
  • The question as framed is tautologous (OED: a statement that is true of necessity or by its logical form).
  • The word ‘good’ in terms of physical punishment is often used to mean ‘severe’: for example, ‘a good hiding’ or ‘six of the best’.
  • The term ‘parental correction’ is confusing in the context of the question. Because ‘force by way of correction’ was used in the old s59, it is often used as meaning ‘correction by the use of force’ or physical punishment. To speak of a ‘smack as part of parental correction’ is repetitious and circular.

“How is it that an estimated $10 million of government funds will be spent on a one-off referendum asking a question that is badly drafted and heavily weighted towards a particular answer?

“The answer lies in the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. Under the act, the wording for the question is determined by the Clerk of the House before signatures are collected for the petition. Section 10(1) sets the criteria for the question posed in the referendum. These criteria require that:

(1) The wording of the precise question to be put to the voters, as determined under s11 of this act by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, (a) Shall be such as to convey clearly the purpose and effect of the indicative referendum; and (b) Shall be such as to ensure that only one of two answers may be given to the question.

“It will be noted that there is no obligation placed on the Clerk of the House to ensure that the question put is balanced or framed in a neutral way.

“It is arguable that the question to be put fails to convey clearly the purpose and effect of the indicative referendum and thought perhaps should be given to challenging the wording by means of judicial review,” Robert Ludbrook says.

“Groups promoting the referendum want politicians to revisit the law and reintroduce a statutory defence.

“The new s59 already provides for a review by Parliament after the amendment has been in force for two years. After 2 July 2009, the chief executive of Child, Youth and Family must provide a report on the effects of the amendment to the Minister of Social Development and this report must be presented to Parliament as soon as practicable [see s59(7)]. As the law change is to be reviewed anyway later this year the referendum seems pointless.

“While citizen’s initiated referenda may be promoted as giving ordinary people a say on important public issues, two points need to be made.

“The first is that although the referendum is about children and their right to be protected from physical assaults, children do not get to vote on the question.

“The second is that it is impossible to condense a complex issue such the acceptability of smacking and hitting children into a question containing 17 words. The question should more correctly have been posed differently.”

Two possible examples of wordings, both having the advantage of clarity and neutrality, would be:

  • Should children be entitled to the same protection from physical assaults as everyone else enjoys?
  • Should the law allow parents and carers to hit or smack children when they misbehave?

“The law is an important symbol and the new s59 sends a clear message that assaulting children is unlawful.

“The referendum is an opportunity for those who believe that children deserve special protection from parental assaults to express their views by answering ‘yes’ to the question.

“A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for the current law,” Robert Ludbrook says.

Recognised internationally as a child rights expert, Robert Ludbrook is a consultant, former lawyer and contributing author of Unreasonable Force: New Zealand’s journey towards banning the physical punishment of children, published by Save the Children NZ (2008).

Brian Edwards: To smack, or not to smack

April 15, 2009

There’s the thing I find difficult to understand – that any civilised person should be so upset by the idea of it being against the law to hit children that they would go to the trouble of organising a  petition to parliament seeking a referendum on the issue, with the express aim of having that law overturned.

Some explanation of the mindset of the more high-profile apologists for a change in the current law is to be found in their connection with, and in some cases membership of the ACT party, the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Family First, the Destiny Church and other conservative political and religious groups. These are people who cannot see beyond punishment as a response to unacceptable behaviour whether in the family or society at large. Their field of vision ranges from hitting naughty children to locking up violent offenders and throwing away the key.  Neither response has ever been effective in improving children’s behaviour or in deterring violent crime. Quite the reverse.

Equally concerning is the willingness of these groups to dishonestly manipulate public opinion. The 1999 Law and Order Referendum, initiated by the Sensible Sentencing Trust, provided a striking example of the ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ style of survey and was deliberately designed to offer respondents Hobson’s choice. It read:

Should there be a reform of the justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?

Three questions but only one available answer – either Yes or No. So if you were in favour of ‘greater emphasis on the needs of victims’ and ‘providing restitution and compensation for them’ – as I am – you also had to be in favour of ‘minimum sentences’ and the brutal Victorian concept of ‘hard labour’ for all serious violent offences’.  Which, needless to say,  I am not in favour of.

Ninety-two percent of respondents apparently were. But most thinking people would have realised that the referendum presented impossibly conflicting options within the one question and would not have responded at all.

In an interview I did with the Sensible Sentencing founder on Radio Live a couple of years ago, Garth McVicar agreed that the Law and Order Referendum question was so flawed as to be meaningless. One might have thought the advocates of smacking – essentially the same people –  would have taken care to ensure that the same mistake would not be repeated.

But the ‘Anti-Smacking Referendum’ has again  been deliberately phrased to bamboozle respondents. It reads:

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

This is the equivalent of asking: ‘Should doctors recommend an exclusive diet of McDonalds and KFC as part of a healthy weight loss programme?’  McDonalds and KFC cannot be part of a healthy weight loss programme. And it is open to serious doubt whether smacking can be part of ‘good parental correction’.

If they are to have any validity at all, the language of referenda questions must be neutral. To make the ‘Anti-Smacking Referendum’ neutral, the word ‘good’ has to be deleted from the question. Even its title is misleading since there is no reference at all to ’smacking’ in the Act. The word simply does not appear.

Bradford’s bill  was designed to prevent abusive parents using Section 59 of the Crimes Act to escape penalty.  Its purpose was clear:

To abolish the use of reasonable force by parents as justification for disciplining children.

The wording of the current Act reflects this:

Nothing in the Act or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.

And it includes the following clarification:

To avoid doubt it is affirmed that police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child, or person in the place of a parent of a child, in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.

That is precisely what the police have done.

Well, in the end it comes down to whether or not you think it should be legal to hit children. ‘Smack’ is such an innocuous word. But you cannot ’smack’ a child without ‘hitting’ or ’striking’ the child. And the word includes a range of possibilities – from the ‘tap on the bum’ which the proponents of the referendum would have us believe a smack means, to the volley of frenzied thumps which most of us have observed from frazzled parents on the street, in supermarkets and on buses.  Indeed, one of the best arguments against smacking is watching a parent smack a child. Generally the child is squirming or struggling to get free. The parent restrains the child by holding onto its arm with one hand, while using the other hand  to paddle its bottom.  Usually the child is crying or screaming. It is not an edifying sight.

But it is instructive. Smacking invariably means that the parent has lost control. Reasoning and constructive communication have been abandoned in favour of physical force.

I suspect most parents feel bad after they have hit their child. And, as a parent of five children and grandfather of ten, I understand very well the stresses that can impel the most loving father or mother to strike out.  We should be careful, as the Act allows,  not to prosecute the parent who on a rare occasion lightly smacks a misbehaving child.

But that is very different from the state legitimising or sanctioning the smacking, hitting, striking, corporal punishment – whatever synonym you prefer –  of children by their parents. That is a very slippery slope. Proponents of a change to the law want a ‘light slap’ to be legal, but the term defies definition and the police and the courts will be faced with the same impossible task they faced in defining ‘reasonable force’.

At present children are protected in law from all corporal punishment in 24 countries. They include Spain, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Israel,  Norway, Finland, Sweden – and New Zealand.

We should be proud to be on that list.

The original article can be found on Brian Edwards’ blog, where you can join the discussion.

Hone Kaa on the referendum – Radio Waatea 603AM

April 3, 2009

Meremere Tu Ahiaha – Kingi Taurua discusses with the Reverend Doctor Hone Kaa, proposed referendum to change the anti smacking provisions that were brought about by the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961. Broadcast on 1 April 2009 – Waatea 603AM.

Child smack battle returns – Waikato Times

March 23, 2009

From the Waikato Times, 23 March 2009
By Natalie Akoorie

Two Hamilton-based child advocacy groups are adding their weight to a coalition of child welfare agencies preparing for a war of words with supporters of a referendum to change the controversial “anti-smacking” law.

The debate over the 2007 law, which removed the defence of “reasonable force” in the physical punishment of children, has reignited ahead of the August referendum.

Child Protection Studies chief executive Anthea Simcock and Parentline chairwoman Margaret Evans say both Hamilton organisations support Barnardos, Save the Children, Plunket, Childspace and other groups in countering what they say is misinformation about the repeal of Section 59.

“There is always going to be debate but at the end of the day if we can keep some children safe by changing adults’ attitudes towards violence then that’s worth doing,” Mrs Simcock said.

The coalition is shaping up against lobby group Family First and others championing the referendum on whether smacking should be a criminal offence.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said polls consistently showed the public was against the smacking ban, and the Government could drop the referendum estimated to cost up to $8 million.

“National and Act could change the law right here and now and that’s what they should do, because that’s what the country’s demanding.”

Family First did not want a return to the law as it was previously, but rather one that allowed light smacking. But Mrs Simcock said this would be a return to the previous law which in one high-profile case allowed a father to get away with hitting his child with a piece of wood.

“What is ‘light smacking’? It’s a bit like a little bit of speeding.”

She said the new law would take a while to “bed in” but she believed it had already begun to change attitudes. “It’s making parents think twice before they just lash out.”

The referendum is to be held by postal ballot.

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

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