Three political parties want to hit, not help
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.