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Unreasonable Force – Book Launched

Unreasonable Force – Book Launched

A new book, launched this week, delivers a strong message for New Zealanders *the law reform brings positive benefits for our children, so let's move on.

Special protection in law of parents who assault their children for "correction" was ended by Parliament last June, when New Zealand became the first English speaking country in the world to ban physical punishment of children * and the first nation in the South East Asia and Pacific region to do so.

Unreasonable Force: New Zealand's journey towards banning the physical punishment of children tells the story of that journey * exploring the role of key players in the campaign, as well as how it was affected by religion, the media, public attitudes and above all, the rights of children.

"This book captures a key period in New Zealand's history, and explains how our Parliament finally came to the conclusion that hitting children was no longer acceptable," long-term child advocate and co-author Beth Wood says.

The book, co-written by former Children's Commissioner Ian Hassall, and freelance author George Hook, with contributions from children's lawyer Robert Ludbrook, was commissioned by Save The Children New Zealand.

It gives an account of the debate that seized the nation in the two years from 2005, leading to an historic accord between the political parties enabling the new law to be passed.

"The story has not yet ended," co-author Dr Hassall says.

"The new law is a starting point, not an end. We can build on the law change to extend the love and security enjoyed by most New Zealand children * to all New Zealand children."

The book suggests ways towards achieving these aims in better resources and information for parents about the changes; supportive arrangements; and research into how the law is working.

Green MP Sue Bradford, who led the campaign to have physical punishment against children banned, congratulated the authors and Save the Children on a timely and important piece of research.

"It will also be an exceptionally useful tool this year, to combat the forces of ignorance and bigotry that seem intent on turning back the clock, and putting our children at risk," Ms Bradford says.

"Everyone who believes that children have the right to grow up free from violence should read this book."

Save The Children New Zealand executive director John Bowis said he was proud to have worked with the authors on "such a vital piece of New Zealand's social history".

"The book presents a case study that will, hopefully, convince the rest of the world that what we've done in this country is worth following," Mr Bowis says.

Internationally, New Zealand has been commended for the new act. The United Nations' new Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Professor Yanghee Lee, sent a message of commendation to New Zealand politicians * screened at the launch * praising the new law.

Messages of commendation were also received from Peter Newell, Co-ordinator of the Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children and Professor Paulo Pinheiro, until recently the United Nations' expert on Ending Violence to Children.

Save The Children has been a leading agency in the debate against physical punishment of children worldwide.

- ENDS -


Beth Wood, co-founder of EPOCH New Zealand in 1997, became a leader in networking, lobbying and advocating for the repeal of Section 59. She was named the inaugural recipient of the He Mana to ia Tamaiti/Every Child Counts individual award in September for her work in improving the status and wellbeing of children.

Ian Hassall was the first Commissioner for Children in New Zealand and has been a leading advocate for the repeal of Section 59 since. George Hook is a freelance author and editor with a personal interest in ending physical punishment of children. Robert Ludbrook is a children's lawyer with a long standing interest in children's rights.


Save the Children is a non-political, non-sectarian development agency that delivers immediate and lasting improvements to children's lives worldwide. Save the Children New Zealand is part of the International Save the Children Alliance, comprising 29 member countries working in more than 100 countries around the world.

It has been a leading agency internationally in the debate against physical punishment of children.

In 2005, it commissioned the important new research, Insights, conducted by child advocate Terry Dobbs, which showed an alarming rate of physical punishment used in ordinary Kiwi families.

More than nine out of ten (92%) of the 80 children aged between five and 14 years interviewed for the study said they had experienced physical punishment. Some reported being hit around the face and/or head and with implements and many described it as the first line of discipline the parent used, rather than a last resort.


* An identification of the various factors that contributed to a climate in New Zealand where law change was eventually possible. These include: public horror at the level of family violence (including child abuse), research evidence identifying negative outcomes and effects associated with physical discipline, the support of a wide range of organisations that work with children and the support of a number of strongly principled politicians.

* An exploration of the roots of the old law on physical discipline which lie in early Roman law in which the father had the rights to the power of life and death over his children and more recently in English common law.

* The idea that religious convictions not only contributed to the roots of the use of physical punishment but also underpinned much of the opposition to reform * not only because older religious teachings have influenced values and beliefs but because much of the organised opposition to law reform came from groups whose convictions were informed interpretations of the Old Testament.

* The heart of the matter - arguments against physical punishment lie in children's human rights * to human dignity and physical integrity, to safety and protection, and to equal status as human beings under the law. Some New Zealanders are found to have ambivalent or misinformed attitudes about children's human rights.

* An exploration of the role and influence of the media in the New Zealand debate. The media were the central component of the public debate about section 59 * they contributed to democracy at work. At best the media informed through positive and thought provoking editorials, opinion pieces and other reports. At worse they minimised issues and fed public fears with misleading headlines and use of the term “anti-smacking.

* A look at the road ahead. Aspects of the new law are yet to be tested in court but early indications are that it is being applied very sensibly. The new law presents opportunity for the nation to build on what has been achieved but in order for this to happen parents need to be well informed about the law and engaged in understanding the positive benefits of it and supported in their efforts to learn new ways of disciplining children. The application of the new law needs to be monitored as do the attitudes and behaviour of New Zealand parents.


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