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Marc My Words - 24 June 2005 - Smacking

Marc My Words - 24 June 2005

Its evils exist only in its abuses.

Andrew Jackson (1832)

Let me be upfront: I have never spanked my son and I do not intend to. It is not because I think spanking is ethically reprehensible; I've been fortunate it has never been necessary. Nevertheless I believe we do need to introduce some balance to the spanking debate. It will undoubtedly be a major election issue for those wanting government to butt out of their lives.

The Government is noticeably embarrassed by having to deal with it for fear of the taint of nanny state intruding on the rights of parents. Helen and Co desperately want to apply this kind of 'feel good' interventionist balm on the canker of child abuse. However, I have found that many who debate the issue and hold lofty expectations of the repeal of section 59 have not read the relevant legislation. So here it is for all to read:

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 jump on this piece of legislation as handing 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. This also applies if your twelve year old is self-harming and physical restraint is used. There are many situations where not to apply reasonable force might itself constitute abuse.

Consider this: a mother uses what I would call reasonable force to protect her disabled partially blind son from bullies who pushed him to the ground and spat on him. She confronted one of the bullies, pushing him 'lightly' off his skateboard, and then punched his cheek. This, after trying to contact the bully's parents with no avail. A reasonable response with reasonable force?


The above is a reasonable parental response. Hard to imagine otherwise. The sad thing is this situation actually happened. On 14 June in the Nelson District Court the mother was charged! She was fined $200 for using reasonable force to protect her vulnerable partially sighted young son. No charges were laid against the bully. Who are we really protecting? It is an absolute travesty.a disgrace!

So, will the repeal of section 59 criminalise the parent? You bet.

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. However a double standard operates if the child should be ill-treated in the foster home.

No one cares, or does anything about it, because the child is in the supposedly 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!
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 paedophiles 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 paedophiles, 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 bandaid 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'. Although commonsense dictates that the word 'reasonable' would by definition exclude abuse, unfortunately some judges have been unable to discern the difference. Sadly, we have a tragic record of child abuse in this country: ten year old Craig Manukau was kicked to death, Delcelia Witika, Anaru

Rogers, James Whakaruru, and little Lillybing of Carterton all died at the hands of their caregivers. Another toddler, two-year-old Sade Trembath, was beaten so badly by her grandmother that she has permanent brain damage. Let's not forget the murder charge laid against Hamilton foster father Michael Waterhouse for the death of three year old Huntly boy, Tamati Pokia. The shameful roll call goes on.

Before we get carried away.let's pause and reflect that in none of these instances was there even a faint hint of reasonableness: these were all instances of appalling abuse. How many truly believe that a change to section 59 would have saved any of them?

How we deal with child abuse in New Zealand has nothing to do with section 59, but everything to do with a disparity between parental responsibility and abuse of children. To criminalise the majority of parents in order to deal with a proportionately small group of truly 'evil parents' is patently absurd. No doubt it will be 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), who will be at the front of the queue tut-tutting about the increase in wayward kids a few years later. "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 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. Let's start treating those parents as the criminals they surely are, with meaningful sentences.
A recent poll in New Zealand (Sunday Star Times 19 June 2005) showed that 82 per cent supported the law to allow parents to use 'reasonable' force on their children when needed.

It's about time those politicians who know least about having children came down to earth and listened.
Marc My Words online: www.marc-alexander-mp.org/marc_my_words.htm

A Politically Incorrect Cookbook: www.Marc-Alexander-MP.org/cook_book.htm


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