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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 82


Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 82

Contents: * Smacking versus violence A tragedy promoted calls to outlaw smacking, but advocates consistently ignore some important points. * The 'Peter Ellis' syndrome A new report shows that fewer men are entering primary teaching. Is PC to blame? * Reforming divorce law Australian research proposes divorce law changes equally applicable to New Zealand.

The smacking debate

The tragic death of 6-year-old Coral Burrows has prompted calls from the Prime Minister, Social Services Minister, Steve Maharey, and the Commissioner for Children to remove Section 59 of the Crimes Act. This section allows parents to use 'reasonable force' when disciplining their children.

But let's be clear: Section 59 does not advocate smacking; it allows for reasonable parental force, which may include smacking. Obviously, responsible parents use a range of measures, and in no way is it a licence to beat children. Moreover, there is a consistent failure among child advocates to see that family dysfunction is a cause of abuse and that smacking and violence are poles apart. There is no evidence that smacking leads to violence, and the law is quite clear about the difference between the two.

When used properly, smacking is a quick correction to bring a child's behaviour back into line; it seeks to restore the parent-child relationship affected by the child's unacceptable behaviour. If done in a context of stable and committed family relationships, it is motivated by love and a commitment to the child's best interests. As children develop, most parents naturally use it less and less.

Abuse, however, is belting, punching, or beating. It is motivated by anger, frustration, revenge or some other volatile desire to 'get back at' the child. Abuse aims to inflict pain, revenge or humiliation. It is often associated with parental neglect, dictatorial control, indulgence and incompetence, and unstable and uncommitted relationships. Making smacking illegal will criminalise responsible parents, but will do nothing to stop abusers.

The Peter Ellis syndrome

Men are not entering early childhood or primary teaching as they used to. One researcher has called this the Peter Ellis syndrome. It's hardly surprising in light of this case that fewer men are applying for these positions, or that those working in these areas are frustrated and fearful. Political correctness (PC) does that to people.

One teacher in his late 20s has said, "The Ministry [of Education] tells you that you are never to be alone with a child, but sometimes the situation you find yourself in dictates that there is no other option. Sometimes you just have to ignore them. They [the rules] are just so PC, it's ridiculous."

A report from the primary teachers' union, the NZEI, has found that more than 80 percent of teachers are women. Men make up only 18 percent of primary teachers-a drop from 22 percent 10 years ago and the percentage will continue to fall.

Given the cases of abuse that have come to light, it's understandable that teacher unions and the Ministry of Education are handing out 'no touch' warnings. Teachers abusing those in their care cannot be tolerated. But when we confuse these cases with hugging a five year-old who has grazed her knee, or whose pet has died, we've lost the plot. PC has increased our awareness, but has taken away our ability to discriminate between helpful touch and abusive touch, and created a climate of suspicion.

Reforming divorce law

Barry Maley a senior fellow at Australia's Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) argues Australian divorce law is eroding confidence in marriage and creating opportunities for partners to exploit their spouses. In _Reforming Divorce Law_, released this month, Maley outlines two proposals for divorce law reform. One makes divorce subject to mutual consent. The other opens up the possibility for serious marital misconduct to influence a divorce settlement. He suggests that ill-formed divorce law is a factor in high divorce rates, a decline in the birth rate, and damaged wellbeing of both children and adults.

In Australia the 1975 change to unilateral, no-fault divorce banished the need to prove misconduct in a marriage for divorce to take place. But it also allowed one spouse to instigate divorce without the consent of the other.

'No-fault divorce ignores the continuing reality of serious marital misconduct. Its costs and damages are no longer recognised by family law. It put an end to redress and compensation for the mistreated spouse. It therefore removed a disincentive to irresponsible, selfish, or malicious behaviour within a marriage.'

Under present no-fault divorce rules, both women and men are exposed to exploitation in the event of divorce, which discourages investment in marriage and having children. Maley's proposals are aimed at transforming marriage into a serious commitment that cannot be unilaterally revoked, and to create disincentives for unilateral divorce and serious marital misconduct.

'Reform should retain no fault divorce where the spouses are agreed that they want to divorce, but should remove unilateralism by requiring that all divorce applications must have the consent of both husband and wife.'

Maley's belief that reprehensible marital conduct should not be ignored by the law is endorsed by nearly three quarters of the Australian population according to a recent AC Nielsen survey. Given New Zealand trends marriage and divorce trends closely mirror those in Australia his findings should be seriously considered in review of New Zealand's no-fault divorce legislation introduced in the Family Proceedings Act 1980.

A copy of the report is at: www.cis.org.au/IssueAnalysis/ia39/IA39.pdf

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Margaret Atwood

A divorce is like an amputation; you survive but there is less of you.

(Time, March 1973)

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Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.

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