Data proves fail­ure in Ki­wis’ smack­ing ban

Fiji Sun - - Comment - Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­jisun.com.fj

Bob McCoskrie ,

First NZ Na­tional Direc­tor, Fam­ily

New Zealand in­tro­duced a smack­ing ban in 2007. Then in a 2009 non-bind­ing ref­er­en­dum, 87 per cent voted against the law - a re­sult which the con­ser­va­tive govern­ment chose to ig­nore. Based on our ex­pe­ri­ence, we would en­cour­age par­ents to ask this ques­tion; is the pro­posed ban on smack­ing more about po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy than about any real un­der­stand­ing of how a ban will im­pact fam­i­lies?

Let’s be clear. In many cases, parental guid­ance and cor­rec­tion will be non­phys­i­cal. Time out, with­drawal of priv­i­leges, a telling-off, ground­ing – they can of­ten work. How­ever, some­times a par­ent may rea­son­ably de­cide that a smack is the most ef­fec­tive way to cor­rect or pre­vent defiant or un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour. Anti-smack­ing poli­cies are prob­lem­atic be­cause they contradict many adults’ own child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences with dis­ci­pline and their long-term out­comes. Many of us re­ceived a well-war­ranted smack and didn’t think of it as abuse, just as we didn’t think of a good tellingoff or ground­ing or time out as a form of abuse. Some­times these par­ent­ing tech­niques do be­come abu­sive, but that says more about the type of par­ent than the tech­nique be­ing used. Any par­ent­ing tech­nique can be abused. So what has hap­pened in New Zealand? Our anal­y­sis just re­leased has con­cluded that there is not a sin­gle so­cial indi­ca­tor re­lat­ing to the well­be­ing of chil­dren that has shown sig­nif­i­cant or sus­tained im­prove­ment since the pass­ing of the law – in fact, they’ve got worse.

Since the pass­ing of the 2007 law, Po­lice sta­tis­tics show there has been a 136 per cent in­crease in phys­i­cal abuse, 43 per cent in­crease in sex­ual abuse, and a 45 per cent in­crease in ne­glect or ill-treat­ment of chil­dren. The state agency Child Youth and Fam­ily (CYF) have had more than one mil­lion no­ti­fi­ca­tions of abuse – in a pop­u­la­tion of 4.5 mil­lion - and there has been a 42 per cent in­crease in phys­i­cal abuse found by CYF since 2007. And health data re­veals a 132 per cent in­crease in chil­dren di­ag­nosed with emo­tional and/or be­havioural prob­lems and a 71 per cent in­crease in chil­dren hos­pi­talised with men­tal and be­havioural dis­or­ders since 2007. The fact that so many so­cial in­di­ca­tors around the wel­fare of chil­dren con­tinue to worsen proves that we sim­ply are not tack­ling the real causes of child abuse. But here is my warn­ing to par­ents. There is also ev­i­dence that the law is doing more harm than good. The anti-smack­ing law has tar­geted law-abid­ing par­ents. An in­de­pen­dent le­gal anal­y­sis at the end of 2014 of court cases in­volv­ing pros­e­cu­tions for smack­ing found that state­ments made by politi­cians that the smack­ing ban would not crim­i­nalise ‘good par­ents’ for lightly smack­ing their chil­dren are in­con­sis­tent with the le­gal ef­fect and ap­pli­ca­tion of the law. A sur­vey in 2011 – four years af­ter the law was passed - found that al­most a third of par­ents of younger chil­dren say that their chil­dren have threat­ened to re­port them if they were smacked, and al­most one in four par­ents of younger chil­dren say that they have less con­fi­dence when deal­ing with un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour from their chil­dren. Two out of three New Zealan­ders say they would flout the law, and three out of four New Zealan­ders want the law amended. The prob­lem is that politi­cians and anti-smack­ing lobby groups linked good par­ents who smacked their chil­dren with child abusers – a no­tion roundly re­jected by fam­i­lies. Anti-smack­ing laws as­sume that pre­vi­ous generations dis­ci­plined their chil­dren in a man­ner that was so harm­ful that they would now be con­sid­ered crim­i­nals. This un­der­mines the con­fi­dence of par­ents in dis­ci­plin­ing their chil­dren, fails to un­der­stand the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship and functioning of fam­i­lies, and has com­mu­ni­cated to some chil­dren that they are now in the ‘driv­ing seat’ and par­ents should be ‘put in their place’. Some lead re­searchers in the area of child rear­ing and child dis­ci­pline sug­gest that, de­spite the best of in­ten­tions, the pro­hi­bi­tion of all forms of phys­i­cal cor­rec­tion may in­ad­ver­tently un­der­mine ap­pro­pri­ate parental dis­ci­pline with the re­sult that a small but in­creas­ing percentage of boys may grow up with a dan­ger­ous com­bi­na­tion of dis­re­spect for their moth­ers and a lack of self-con­trol. The re­searchers note that crit­ics of anti-smack­ing laws have been un­able to iden­tify al­ter­na­tive meth­ods of dis­ci­pline that are as ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing child be­hav­iour prob­lems when us­ing the same sci­en­tific re­sults used to de­nounce smack­ing.

Milder dis­ci­plinary tac­tics may be suf­fi­cient for eas­ily man­aged chil­dren, but they are in­ad­e­quate for con­trol­ling the be­hav­iour of young op­po­si­tional defiant chil­dren. A law change would also com­mu­ni­cate the mes­sage that politi­cians don’t trust Scot­tish par­ents to raise their own chil­dren re­spon­si­bly. Ul­ti­mately, as we have ob­served, the sup­port­ers of smack­ing bans are in­flu­enced by po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy rather than com­mon sense, good sci­ence and sound pol­icy-mak­ing. Crim­i­nal­is­ing good par­ents who sim­ply want to raise law-abid­ing and re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens is bad law-mak­ing.

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