Social Development Minister Paula Bennet says in her media release:
“The review has found no evidence to show that parents are being subject to unnecessary state intervention for occasionally lightly smacking their children. “I think this review goes some way to comforting parents that the law is being interpreted in the way it was intended.”
So if report after monotonous report confirms that the Child Discipline Law is working to protect children without putting parents at risk, one might ask some hard questions about the true agenda of the Orwellianly-named “March for Democracy” as they march by this weekend.
Prime Minister John Key today released Terms of Reference for a review of policies and procedures used by the New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family around the issue of smacking.
The review stems from Cabinet decisions a fortnight ago introducing safeguards to give parents comfort they will not be criminalised for lightly smacking their children.
“This review will look at the policies and procedures of the Police and CYF, including the referral process between the two agencies, to identify any changes needed to ensure good parents are treated as Parliament intended,” Mr Key says.
“The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and the recent referendum reinforces that New Zealanders don’t either.
“I believe the law is working as intended but I can assure parents the National-led Government will continue to monitor the way the law is being implemented.”
The review will be conducted by the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, Peter Hughes, the Commissioner of Police Howard Broad, and well known clinical psychologist Nigel Latta.
Mr Latta has significant experience working with young people and their families and Mr Key says his independent perspective will be useful.
“I am pleased that Nigel has agreed to take part in the review and I’m sure he will bring a direct and honest approach to the table,” Mr Key says.
“The reviewers will be able to make recommendations and consider any other matters they think will help to ensure that parents are treated as Parliament intended.”
The review team will report to the Prime Minister, Minister of Police and Minister of Social Development by December 1.
A citizens-initiated referendum was held between 31 July and 21 August 2009 on the question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Eighty-seven per cent of those who voted, responded ‘no’ to this question.
The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and does not believe the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 intends for this to occur. It wants safeguards to be put in place to give parents comfort that this will not happen. Cabinet [CAB Min (09) 30/23] has agreed to a number of measures to provide such safeguards. These include this review of New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures.
Terms of Reference
To review New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures, including the referral process between the two agencies, in order to identify any changes that are necessary or desirable in the interest of ensuring that:
1. good parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007
2. provisions of the law (both criminal and under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989) are applied to those who abuse children.
To consider any other matters which, in the reviewers’ opinion, will assist in ensuring that parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007.
To make recommendations concerning these matters.
Peter Hughes, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development
Howard Broad, Commissioner of Police
Nigel Latta, Clinical Psychologist.
The reviewers will provide a report and make recommendations to the Prime Minister and Ministers of Police and Social Development and Employment by 1 December 2009.
Nigel Latta says in a press release,
I have been approached by the Prime Minister and asked if I would consider participating in a review of the Police and CYF processes around S 59 to see if the law is working as intended. I have agreed to participate in this review on the basis that it was understood that my role was independent and that I was able to speak freely about both the process of the review, and my opinions regarding its findings.
For the record, and this is something I have commented on publically in a number of contexts, my personal view on S59 is that I did not agree with the original law change. I also voted no in the referendum. I do not believe that a parent smacking their child, in the ‘common sense’ understanding of what that means, should be subject to criminal prosecution or investigation. It would be my view that the “anti-smacking debate” has become needlessly polarised from the very beginning into a position whereby you are either “for child abuse”, or you are “against child abuse”. This tendency of both sides of the debate to reduce a complex social/moral issue into rather simplistic extremes has resulted in our being plunged into an argument that has consumed a great deal of time, energy, and money, when ultimately everyone agrees with that we need to do more to protect children from abuse and neglect.
The terms of reference for this review are very clear. I see my role as first and foremost to look at the evidence and to ensure that the law does not result in good parents either being criminalised, or being needlessly subjected to investigations that are intrusive and/or traumatic. This is a responsibility I hold directly to the everyday mums and dads of New Zealand, and one that I take very seriously.
Because this issue has been dealt with to date in largely emotive and ideological rhetoric, I am interested solely in looking at the data, and in forming an opinion on the actual impact of the law change on that basis. For that reason I will not be meeting with, corresponding with, or entering into discussions with, any lobby groups from either end of the debate.
I will also not be engaging in any media interviews on this matter until after the review process has been completed. At that time the findings will be presented to the public in as transparent a manner as possible so that the Kiwi parents can make up their own minds based on the actual data.
This project began on 17th March 2007, three months prior to enactment. It ended on 22nd June 2009 two years after enactment.
Regular updates have been published since June 2007. This final report includes the 5th monitoring period (5th April 2009 to 22nd June 2009) not previously reported.
During the two years police brought one prosecution for smacking which was subsequently withdrawn. A further 13 prosecutions were brought for events classified as “minor acts of physical discipline”. These events may have included a smacking element plus other aggravating factors.
Of those 14 cases prosecuted sentences included diversion, discharge without conviction, conviction and discharged, and supervision.
Deputy Commissioner (Operations) Rob Pope says the monitoring shows police have consistently applied their discretion when dealing with child assault events.
“The amendment has had minimal impact on police activity and officers have continued to apply a commonsense approach”
“The monitoring has shown that practice guidelines issued by the Commissioner in June 2007 have been effective in guiding police when dealing with these difficult cases”
“Police has continued to apply its discretion and assess each incident on a case by case basis”
(ii) The 1063 child assault events identified in this review period are not the total number of child assault events attended nationally by police during this time. These are events which, according to 7 offence codes, were most likely to identify incidents which might involve ‘smacking’. This is because ‘smacking’ in itself is not an offence.
The Police Family Violence Governance Group and the Ministry of Social Development agreed to examine the following seven offence types:
Assault Child (Manually)
Assault Child (Other Weapon)
Common Assault (Domestic)(Manually) Common Assault (Manually)
Other Assault on Child (Under 14 Years)
Common Assault Domestic (Other Weapon)
Other Common Assault
And based on this examination the events were allocated to one of each of the following categories: ‘smacking’, ‘minor acts of physical discipline’ and ‘other child assault’. The rationale used to allocate each event to a specific category involved consideration of the:
actual physical action used in the child assault; and
the context and the surrounding circumstances, as outlined in the Commissioners Circular.
(iv) The Commissioner’s Circular on this issue released in June 2007 can be found on the NZ Police website
The National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) will continue to support a law that allows children to grow up free from violence, regardless of the referendum results.
In 1997 NCWNZ passed a resolution by majority that called for the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 so that children could be afforded the same legal protection from assault as adults.
NCWNZ applauds the law changes that followed and urges the government to stand by the decision made in 2007 to protect children from unjust physical punishment.
“There needs to be more education around the current law and more information around the benefits of positive parenting over physical discipline,” says Elizabeth Bang, NCWNZ National President.
Studies have shown that rewards are more effective than punishment in terms of modifying behaviour for the better. The use of physical punishment has also been shown to produce overwhelmingly negative lifelong consequences and condition the individual to view violence as a solution.
“If it’s not an effective discipline solution and has harmful side effects on the individual and society”, says Elizabeth Bang, “why would anyone ever use physical discipline”.
NCWNZ believes the law is working and that the child-rearing practices of many New Zealanders are being positively affected.
“The child discipline law gives our kids the possibility to grow up in a society that over time will become less violent,” says Elizabeth Bang, “that’s a good thing”.
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
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
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.
If you are going to use or distribute material from our campaign in any way, eg remixed or mashed up, please ensure that your actions are compliant with the relevant legislation, as the Yes Vote Coalition cannot take responsibility for actions beyond our control or knowledge.
The bottom line is that we want to play by the rules. We appreciate your support, but please act ethically, thoughtfully, and within the law.