Posts Tagged section 59

Social Policy Journal addresses child discipline issues

May 11, 2009

Two articles published in a recent issue of the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand (Issue 34, July 2008) will be of interest to people concerned about child discipline issues.

The first article, Just who do we think Children are? New Zealanders’ Attitudes about Children, Childhood and Parenting: An Analysis of Submissions on the Bill to Repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, is by Sophie Debski, Sue Buckley and Marie Russell. The researchers analysed a sample of the submissions to Parliament on the bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, and used two known social viewpoints of children. In one viewpoint, childhood is seen as a phase of development and children are regarded as unable to reason and in need of constant guidance from adults – in other words, they are seen as “human becomings”. In the second viewpoint children are seen as full human beings entitled to full human rights and capable of contributing positively to society at all stages of their development – in other words, children are seen as “human beings”.

The researchers found that submitters to the select committee who saw children as “human beings” were more likely to support the 2007 law change than those that regarded children as “human becomings”.

The second article by Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith, A place where it’s not ok to hit children, looks at how professionals approach the task of communicating, guiding and advising families with young children about disciplinary issues. They found that parents sought advice on discipline, and that most professionals disagreed with the use of physical discipline but expressed caution about telling parents that they thought smacking was harmful. The research was conducted before the law change and it is possible that professionals now have an added challenge – how to tell parents about the law change.

A major implication of both these pieces of research is the need to continue to raise public awareness about child development, positive child discipline and the law.

Unicef presentation on the referendum

May 6, 2009

Barbara Lambourn at Unicef NZ has put together the following Powerpoint presentation, called “What’s it all about? Section 59 of the Crimes Act”.  It’s a good general overview of the issues suitable for presentations.

You can also download the presentation, so you can load it onto your laptop and show it round everywhere.

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.

Section 59 Briefing Sheet

April 24, 2009

A new Section 59 Briefing Sheet is now available online, providing a succinct overview of why Section 59 was amended in 2008, how the law is working in practice, what the law says, and the 2009 referendum.  It’s a great synopsis of the information on the site, in a four-page easily printed document.

You’ll find more good resources on our “more info and downloads” page.

Ian Hassall: Reality check

April 23, 2009

I’ve been away for the weekend and listening to ordinary New Zealanders who have nothing to do with the debate that is about to be replayed over s59 of the Crimes Act.

The slogans, catch-phrases and ready-made opinions you hear in the course of conversation would lead you to believe that too many New Zealanders are bullies and cowards when it comes to how they behave toward their children. It’s all, “They’ve got to learn”, “Teach the little buggers”, “Needs a good hiding” as well as the defiant, “Nobody’s going to tell me how to bring up my kids”.

Perhaps too many of us are bullies and cowards but you do hear different things said that reflect behaviour that I like to think is more the norm. You hear, “They’re only kids”, “You’ve got to love them” and so on, but these phrases come up in discussions only as a late counterpoint to the aggression. It is when the conversation turns to the publicised cases of violence to children that the aggressive expressions are no longer permissible and that is, to a considerable degree, where the support for ending the licenced aggression previously permitted by the Crimes Act has come from. Parliamentarians overwhelmingly supported the s59 change, perhaps because their closer involvement in the debate has made them see the reality more clearly.

We may be beginning to see it too. It’s interesting that efforts to make our casual, everyday expressions of violence toward children square with our horror at the media cases have been largely unsuccessful. The slogan, “We know the difference between a smack and child abuse”, has not been widely believed or taken up. People know in their hearts and fear the connection between their violent feelings and ways of speaking about children, and what they see on television and read in the papers.

Nevertheless, for supporters of the current law this connection may yet be a point of vulnerability. The promoters of the July referendum are trying to exploit it in their ads by saying that the law change has not stopped child abuse. This statement, although absurd (even the grisliest of dictators and the most charismatic of reformers don’t bring about instant social change), does have some popular resonance. It suggests meddling by the child rights supporters in something they don’t understand that is possibly unchangeable anyway.

Fortunately, that is probably not the way an increasing number of New Zealanders see it. Barnardos, Plunket, Unicef, and Save the Children deal with these matters in their day-to-day work. Their membership and the many who have joined with them are the voices of New Zealanders who have had enough of violence toward children. They support the law as it now stands.

The coming replay of the public debate needs to build on and build up rhetoric that will capture New Zealanders’ goodwill toward children and preparedness to give them a fair go. It will also be an expression of the shame and anger most New Zealanders feel at the violence suffered by so many children. But it may need more than that. The brutality of our popular discourse toward children may need to be exposed. To be named and shamed as the cowards and bullies we sound like and are when we use this language and behaviour. Most people are alarmed and sickened by observing actual violence toward children and would be surprised to hear how they sound in their casual conversation about them.

An American documentary on a television show a few years ago had this effect. It was a fly-on-the-wall record of a household in which a child was repeatedly threatened and struck in a routine, almost reflexive way. In another sequence, a child was put into a prolonged state of fear waiting for her father to come home to administer punishment and was then punished using such cold-blooded, deliberate infliction of pain as to disturb any viewer with the least compassion.

This should be shown again at a suitable time in the lead up to the referendum. It is as well that we couldn’t now make a similar documentary in this country in view of the amendment to s59 but it would be useful to make and screen a documentary that captured the language we use in relation to children.

The reality of our discourse and the behaviour of some of us toward children reflected back to New Zealanders would, I believe, help us understand better the need for the present law.

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.

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.

The child discipline law and children’s human rights

April 14, 2009

Beth Wood, EPOCH NZ

Over the weekend we saw the issue of child discipline in the media again, this time with headlines  suggesting that Labour had done a u-turn on the “anti-smacking” bill.  But it turns out that this was not the case.  Mr Goff caused some confusion yesterday when he said that a smack shouldn’t be a criminal offence.  But he amended this by saying that parents should not be followed up and prosecuted for a smack. He later told NZPA that neither his position nor Labour’s policy had changed. He said “I don’t think the law needs to be changed”.  Mr Goff said the bill was working.

Finding a way to give children equal protection in law from assault as adults, setting a standard in law that does not endorse any form of violence to children and at the same time avoiding prosecution of parents for minor assaults has been one of the challenges law drafters and supporters of change have faced. Prosecutions for minor assaults are obviously not in the child or the parents’ interests because of the stress and disruption prosecution would cause.

The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 contained a provision reminding Police that they have discretion not to prosecute when it would not be in the public interest to do so.  Regular reports on Police activity since law change indicate that parents are not being prosecuted for a simple smack.  This provision and guidelines for the Police about its application are sensible solutions to the challenge.

However, the “risk of criminalisation” cry has sometimes been a mask to disguise the more vexing issue, the fact that some adults think they have a right to smack and hit children, perhaps because they believe it’s a good thing to do, but often because they regard them as “theirs”, human beings that they own.

Mr Cullen summed up the fallacy of this argument succinctly when he told media recently that the law change did not impact on personal freedom.  He said “Freedom is the right to be who you are, providing it doesn’t impinge upon the right of people to be who they are. That’s not the right to beat up kids.”

Children are people too with human rights.   In the case of child discipline this means the right to live in a country where politicians and other leaders do not endorse outmoded laws and practices.  I find it reassuring that when I talk to people about the law change and the upcoming referendum they often say “Come on New Zealand, get over it, and move on”.

Beth Wood

Phil Goff Denies U-Turn on Anti-Smacking Law

April 13, 2009

Source: Guide2
By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, April 12 NZPA – Labour leader Phil Goff says the anti-smacking law does not need to be amended or revoked.

Mr Goff caused confusion this morning when he was asked on TV One’s Q and A programme whether he thought a smack should be allowed as part of good parental correction.

“Well my answer to that is no it shouldn’t be a criminal offence or we should not have people following up and prosecuting parents for a smack in that context, but remember 110 out of 122 MPs voted for that legislation including every member of the National Party.”

That response sparked Family First who oppose the law to put out a statement welcoming the apparent U-turn.

ACT MP John Boscawen has drafted a member’s bill to allow parents to use a light smack to correct their children and Family First director Bob McCoskrie said Labour should now back the ACT MP’s bill.

But Mr Goff told NZPA this evening neither his position nor Labour’s policy had changed.

Labour supported Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill to remove from the Crimes Act the statutory defence of “reasonable force” to correct a child, meaning there would be no justification for the use of force for that purpose.

The “reasonable force” defence had been used by parents who had beaten their children with whips and pieces of wood but opponents said the change would make criminals out of parents who lightly smacked their children and removed their right to discipline them.

The bill was hugely controversial and even though it passed in May 2007 by 113 votes to eight, Labour took the flak for it. National backed the bill after a last-minute compromise to add a proviso stating police had discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent if they considered the offence to be inconsequential.

Mr Goff this evening said the law was working.

“We voted in favour of the legislation but there was an understanding all the way through that good parents would not be prosecuted for lightly smacking their child… and there has been no prosecutions of parents in those circumstances.”

Mr Goff said Labour had never supported parents being prosecuted for a light smack.

“That’s not a U-turn, that’s the policy we talked about at the time.”

Mr Goff did not accept his comment was confusing and said he was happy with what he said.

“Technically it is a criminal offence… the point we are making is there should be no criminal prosecutions of parents in those circumstances.

“I don’t think the law needs to be changed.”

He rejected backing Mr Boscawen’s bill.

“There’s not a question of backing John Boscawen’s bill if good parents are not being prosecuted for lightly smacking their children then the law is working as intended.”

Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen also commented on the issue today in the Sunday Star Times. He said Labour had had to support the bill as it fitted with the party’s own policy.

Opposing the bill would have made Labour look unprincipled.

“That was the kind of issue where you’re hung for a sheep or a lamb whatever way you go,” Dr Cullen said.

He told the newspaper the law change did not impact on personal freedom.

“Freedom is the right to be who you are, providing it doesn’t impinge upon the right of people to be who they are. That’s not the right to beat up kids.”

Hitting – not part of our future: Families Commissioner

March 29, 2009

By Jan Pryor
Chief Commissioner
Families Commission
29 March 2009

A year and a half after New Zealand’s child discipline law was changed, it’s clear more needs to be done to allay fears and encourage parents to raise their children without raising their hands.

In fact, 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 law change did not introduce any new criminal offence. The offence was, and always has been one of assault; and police continue to investigate allegations of assault on children and prosecute only those where they believe the assault is serious enough to take to court.

Police say that since the law was introduced there has been no significant increase in the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions or other activity related to smacking or minor physical assaults against children.

It was quite disturbing to recently hear parents on talk back radio say that now that they ‘couldn’t smack’ they were forcing their children to eat soap, mustard or even chilli. Or, they screamed and yelled at their children to get their attention. How can this help a child learn to behave?

It’s very difficult to understand why parents would want to use these sorts of strategies when positive parenting techniques are so much more rewarding and effective. A phone call to any family agency such as Barnardos, Plunket, or a search on Google will point them to information on positive parenting.

The Families Commission is one of many organisations who supported the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act.

Healthy, positive relationships within families do not involve people hitting each other and the Commission continues to believe that repeal was one step that, combined with other nationwide efforts to address violence, will help us become a violence-free society.

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.

Research 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.

The best and most effective parenting practices do not use physical punishment and positive strategies are better at helping children to learn self discipline and to behave well in the long term.

One of the objectives of law reform was to make the law congruent with positive non-violent parenting messages and the new 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.

More and more parents are learning these skills through the government’s SKIP (Strategies for Kids Information for Parents) leaflets and parenting courses, or through other similar programmes offered by various non-government agencies.

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.

We are now at the point where another recent survey on behalf of the Office of the Children’s Commission has shown that 43 percent of people support the new law.

However, some of this progress could be undermined by the citizens initiated postal referendum being held in the middle of the year on the question, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Should anyone be hit as a way to change their behaviour – let alone a small child? Should employers be able to smack employees? Should coaches hit team members when they do something to let down the team? Why should it be OK to hit children – who are so much smaller and vulnerable?

We suspect many people may chose not to vote in the referendum because they can’t agree or disagree with the question – or simply because it’s no longer an issue for them

We need more public education about the law and continued investment in positive parenting programmes.

As parents, we all want to raise our children to be happy well adjusted adults. We all want to be great parents. However, it’s not always easy and not something we can always do just by instinct.

The best parents are those who aren’t afraid to seek help and advice. Finding out about new and effective ways to raise our children is a sign of strength not an admission of failure.

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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