Three po­lit­i­cal par­ties want to hit, not help

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Few things have been as hotly de­bated in some quarters as the re­peal of Sec­tion 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 or, as some la­bel it, ‘‘the an­ti­smack­ing bill’’. It is still an elec­tion is­sue for some who con­tinue to see it as their right to phys­i­cally pun­ish their chil­dren.

Here’s the thing: The re­peal of Sec­tion 59 of the Crimes Act, is not, and never was, sim­ply about smack­ing.

It is about pro­tect­ing ba­sic hu­man rights and re­mov­ing what could be used as an un­just de­fence in court.

The pre­vi­ous Sec­tion 59 made it pos­si­ble for chil­dren to be phys­i­cally abused yet be un­pro­tected by law.

The law acted as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, ex­cuse or de­fence for par­ents and guardians to use their choice of force against their chil­dren for the pur­poses of cor­rec­tion.

Many forms of phys­i­cal force were al­lowed un­der the guise of ‘‘parental dis­ci­pline’’; of­ten the same phys­i­cal force would re­sult in some­one be­ing charged with as­sault if forced upon an adult.

Since the law was amended in 2007, chil­dren now have the same pro­tec­tion as ev­ery­one else so far as the use of force is con­cerned.

The use of force on a child may con­sti­tute an as­sault – and why shouldn’t it?

Why should our small­est and most vul­ner­a­ble have fewer rights and less pro­tec­tion than the rest of us?

Cur­rently as part of their elec­tion cam­paign we see cer­tain po­lit­i­cal par­ties and lobby groups – in­clud­ing Con­ser­va­tive, ACT and Fam­ily First – still want­ing to re­hash this law, ar­gu­ing that so­called ‘‘good’’ par­ents are be­ing un­jus­ti­fi­ably pun­ished by not be­ing able to hit their kids.

For th­ese po­lit­i­cal par­ties to con­tinue to pour their en­er­gies into some­thing so neg­a­tive in elec­tion year is shame­ful when we have such shock­ing child abuse statis­tics in this coun­try and so many real and press­ing is­sues that face fam­i­lies and chil­dren.

We know that phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment can lead to abu­sive, out-of­con­trol parenting.

This can be­come in­ter­gen­er­a­tional be­cause, like it or not, we all have ten­den­cies to par­ent on au­topi­lot and par­ent the way that we were par­ented, the good with the bad. ( We see count­less par­tic­i­pants in our prison parenting pro­grammes who have never been aware that there is any other way than to dis­ci­pline with a smack/hit/punch.)

It’s also sad to con­tinue to see par­ents with so few tools in their parenting kit that they still be­lieve they have to re­sort to con­trol by phys­i­cal force.

Smack­ing and phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment is, quite frankly, cut­tingedge 1950s parenting.

The world has moved on and we know, through decades of ex­pe­ri­ence, through ex­perts in the field of child de­vel­op­ment and through count­less in­ter­na­tional stud­ies, that there are much more ef­fec­tive ways to dis­ci­pline chil­dren with­out re­sort­ing to con­trol­ling them through pain.

We know that chil­dren’s be­hav­iour re­sponds best to pos­i­tive dis­ci­pline (in­clud­ing clear lim­its, bound­aries and con­se­quences, re­spect­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion and guid­ance) rather than to the use of phys­i­cal force and a cli­mate of con­trol.

So let’s move on and leave 1950s parenting and poli­cies where they be­long – in the past – and pour our en­er­gies into real poli­cies that will make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence for New Zealand fam­i­lies.

Fo­cus­ing on par­ent ed­u­ca­tion, filling up par­ent’s tool­boxes with clev­erer dis­ci­pline op­tions, is a good place to start.

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