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Marc My Words – Against Section 59 Propaganda

Marc My Words – Against Section 59 Propaganda

Political comment By Marc Alexander

Family is an internal endeavor and an achievement, not an external judgment from the ideology of the state.

The onslaught on the Kiwi family rolls on unabated. If families manage to survive their enslavement by the driftnet of dependency and welfarism enforced by a punishing taxation rate that saps the aspiration of middle New Zealand, then the assault on parental responsibility might just do it. How the hell did we get to a situation where during an economic boom period families with one child up to $70,000 and those with 6 children up to $150,000 can now claim welfare benefits?

We have Labour politicians shooting their mouth off about the insatiable greed of those who - horror upon horror (!) - Actually want to keep more of what they create through their labors, and yet have no qualms about their own administration's greed in bilking the public of their money to fund another round of vote-buying! They spit out words like capitalism and entrepreneurship as if they were a tenth century plague about to be bitten into the twenty-first century rump of societies' march to a socialist utopia distilled by the great minds of comrades Clark and Cullen.

Now we have to contend with the nauseatingly ill-thought Sue Bradford's Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill which passed its first reading last year. The intent of the Bill is to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 and make physical parental discipline a criminal offence. In other words it will remove the ability of parents to parent and criminalize those who exert a physical response no matter how appropriate it may be under the circumstances.

Much of the debate surrounding the issue has focused whether it is right to give parents a defense against possible charges resulting from the use of physical force to discipline their child. In reality its application is much wider. Sue Bradford and her busybody interventionist acolytes desperately want to apply this kind of 'feel good' interventionist balm on the canker of child abuse. However, many who support this nonsense - and who genuinely believe it to be the magic bullet that will rid our country of child abuse - are likely to be terribly disappointed. Most, I suggest, have not carefully read the relevant legislation. So here it is:


Crimes Act 1961


59. Domestic discipline

(1) Every parent of a child and, subject to subsection (3) of this section, every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.

(2) The reasonableness of the force used is a question of fact.


Now, what constitutes reasonable?

Many have argued that as it stands, the legislation hands parents the right to spank, or to abuse (and there's a huge difference), but it is really much more than that. To yank a child from the road when in danger from traffic is using reasonable force. So is using restraint on your twelve year old to prevent self-harming. What about forcing your methamphetamine filled teenager from committing violence, suicide etc? There are many situations where not to apply reasonable force might itself constitute abuse.

So, will the repeal of section 59 criminalize the parent? You bet. Removing section 59 will do nothing to prevent child abuse. Lillybing, James Whakaruru, Delcelia Witika and many others did not die because loving parents used reasonable force; they died because of extreme abuse that makes a mockery of parental obligation. What of Rocky Wano, 15, who was beaten to death by his father? Confusing 'reasonable corrective discipline' by parents who take their commitment to parent seriously, with abuse such as the previous examples, is a not only a slap in the face of all good parents but is simply an ideological intrusion that creates a divide between parents and the children they choose to have.

Besides, the legal defense provided by section 59 is very limited in its application. The prescription of 'reasonable' precludes abuse. If judges have got it wrong in the past then perhaps there is need to clarify what reasonable means. Frankly, how anyone could misrepresent a slap on the hand to prevent a tot from touching a heated element as akin to stubbing cigarettes on a child's back or being hurled against a wall is beyond me.

Child abuse is already illegal and isn't protected by section 59 anyway. If the likes of Sue Bradford really did want to do something about child abuse then lets 'up' the penalties. Let's throw child abusers into prison for a minimum of 20 years hard labor and for the term of natural life for the very worst offenders - if that's what Sue Bradford would suggest, then I'll be marching beside her all the way!

But no.her real intent is to bring the government into the relationship between a parent and child in the most unsupportive way possible - by making them potential legal adversaries. Bradford may claim that her intention is not to criminalize caring parents for so-called 'trivial' smacking but the repeal of section 59 will imply that it will constitute an assault. Parents will have no legislative defense.

Another aspect of the debate which has attracted scant attention is that Sue Bradfords' Bill says nothing about the use of 'reasonable' force in other circumstances. Consider section 60:


Crimes Act 1961

60 Discipline on ship or aircraft

(1) The master or officer in command of a ship or the pilot in command of an aircraft is justified in using and ordering the use of force for the purpose of maintaining good order and discipline onboard his ship or aircraft if he believes on reasonable grounds that the use of force is necessary, and if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.


Why is Bradford not applying the same logic here? Why are strangers exempt from her intended restriction of applying reasonable force but parents subject to it? If the intent is to stamp out abuse then surely we should apply the same consistency in all cases? Here we see not only a flaw in Bradford's incoherent concern, but an act of misplaced interference in her real target: the Kiwi family.

Of course other nations have gone down the path advocated by Bradford and presages what we might expect here. For example, in Sweden smacking a disobedient child is called "child abuse". A problem arises because the anti-smacking law is an imperfect law. Unlike the provisions of the Penal Code, it doesn't state, "If you smack your child you will be arrested, charged, prosecuted and sentenced to prison and your child will be taken from you". Nevertheless those are the prospects facing a parent who smacks their child.

The parent risks prosecution, fines or a prison sentence and the child can be removed from the home and placed in care. Sadly there is a double standard if the child is ill-treated in a foster home. No one cares, or does anything about it, because the child is supposedly in the safe care of the State! Tragically the same situation is true in New Zealand.

On June 17, 2002 the Dominion ran a report showing that in the previous three years more than 150 children had been removed from State foster parents after being physically, sexually or emotionally abused by them. Details issued by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services under the Official Information Act show that between July 1999 and June 2000, 61 children were removed from their foster parents' care after suffering substantiated instances of abuse. These are kids who were removed from their original families on the premise that they would be safer in State care!

Fifty-two children were removed from foster care between July 2000 and June 2001, and 45 between July 2001 and March 2002. That constitutes a rate of abuse of children under 17 twice the rate occurring in the general population. Those who claim that no police would prosecute a clearly sensible application of the law (as a result of the repeal of section 59), miss the point - some over-zealous 24 year old idealistic social worker with the best of intentions would!

What Bradford and her misguided supporters for the repeal of section 59 would give effect to be to criminalize decent parents by legally rebranding their application of reasonable force as abuse, and providing the state with the grounds to intercede - often with tragic consequences.

Over the Tasman there have been a number of disturbing allegations involving a variety of abuse claims of children in State care. A New South Wales Royal Commission uncovered an appalling network of pedophiles in the mid -1990s. South Australia is the latest state to launch an inquiry into the abuse of children in its care, following the weekend arrests of alleged pedophiles, and a new probe into claims that the death of a boy in a Catholic orphanage in the 1960s had been covered up.

Attorney-General Michael Atkinson told Parliament recently that Police were investigating another 585 allegations reported since the State Government removed the statute of limitations on cases of child abuse.

Widespread abuse of children in State and Church institutions emerged from the 1999 Commission of Inquiry in Queensland; and four years later former Governor-General Peter Hollingworth was forced from office by a scandal over his handling of abuse claims when he was Archbishop of Brisbane. In many cases the biggest abuse of our children is not by parents but by the state.

It is easy to be cynical about the latest attempt to see the removal of section 59 as a band aid reaction to the UNICEF figures of 2003 that show New Zealand had the third-highest rate of child abuse deaths among 26 OECD countries, claiming that our Government has still not done enough. As terrible as it is, we must face the reality that our child-abuse death rate is among the highest in the developed world.

No one in their right mind would want children to be abused and parents to 'get-away-with-it'. But how we deal with child abuse in New Zealand has nothing to do with section 59, and everything to do with a disparity between parental responsibility and abuse of children. To criminalize the majority of parents in order to deal with a proportionately small group of truly 'evil parents' is patently absurd.

I have no doubt that the same people who want the symbolism of removing section 59 (and sleeping better, knowing they've rid the world of another of life's ills), will be at the front of the queue tut-tut ting about the increase in wayward kids in a few years time. "Where are the parents? What about their responsibility?" they will cry in utter futility.

If we want parents to be held responsible for how their kids turn out, why are we taking away one of the means by which some parents can parent? If it is child abuse we want to target, then let's stop wasting time attacking good parents and do more to prevent abuse happening in the first place. For goodness sake, section 59 does not make spanking mandatory nor does it make abuse OK! Let's start treating those parents as the criminals they surely are, with meaningful sentences.

It's about time those politicians who know least about having children came down to earth and listened.


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