New Zealand used to be known as a great place to bring up kids. This along with our clean, green image sold the country as a utopia, one of the last bits of untouched Paradise. So how is it that we have gained another notoriety with the third to highest rate of child deaths through domestic violence in the developed world? And, given this gruesome situation, how come we are again discussing whether to allow parents to physically punish their children?
Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 was amended in 2007 by 113 votes to 8 in a parliament that wanted to get rid of the defence of ‘reasonable force’ which was acquitting parents and guardians of seriously damaging violence against their children.
The amendment was passed with a change that allowed police discretion not to prosecute minor offences.
As the law stands today, police do not prosecute parents for a smack. Plunket, Barnardos, Save the Children Fund, UNICEF, the Families Commission, Caritas, the Paediatric Society of NZ and the Children’s Commissioner among others have advised against smacking and are supporting the law as it stands, that is, they are advising people to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum which must be returned by August 21.
A ‘yes’ to the question ‘Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?’ supports a law that is working well, protects children from assault and causes parents to seek other, more effective ways to train their children.
The good news is that the referendum forces society to think about how it does treat its children. The Children’s Commissioner John Angus released a report in June (featured in last month’s Wel-com which found that children were most at risk on the first day of their lives. There are a multitude of risk factors but young men who are not the biological fathers and who may have problems with alcohol and anger management are often the culprits.
The commissioner is calling on the government to consider funding the Shaken Baby Prevention Programme which the Auckland DHB is currently looking at. The programme targets parents of newborns, including fathers, to give them information about infants’ vulnerability to brain injury and to teach them how to deal with the frustration of a baby crying inconsolably. One American study found the programme caused a 47 percent decrease in head injuries.
Pope John Paul II spoke in support of children’s rights directly or through his representative at the United Nations.
‘Special attention must be devoted to children by developing a profound esteem for their personal dignity and a great respect for and generous concern for their rights’ Familiaris Consortio 1981.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has expressed its concern in a submission to Parliament: ‘We believe that the lack of legal clarity between discipline and abuse contributes to NZ’s unacceptably high levels of child abuse … at the hands of parents or guardians.’
The real question is, Are we training our children to love themselves and others as God loves all of us, God’s creatures?