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Children's Safety A Priority At Plunket Conference

13 June 2005
Media release

Children's safety a priority at Plunket conference

The care, safety and protection of children were the priorities of Plunket delegates at the society's biennial conference, held at Palmerston North over the weekend (subs 9-12 June).

Plunket president, Kaye Crowther, said 13 of the 14 remits presented at conference were passed. Plunket is community-owned and delegates attending the conference represent ordinary parents from throughout New Zealand. Remits are put forward by Plunket branches 120 days before Conference.

"Families must be able to raise their children in a safe and secure environment. To do this they must have good parenting skills and the support of the community in which they live.

"Two of the remits passed this weekend relate to short and long-term strategies to support the safety of children and their families," said Mrs Crowther.

* That Plunket advocates for compulsory parenting education in secondary schools.

* That Plunket advocates for the immediate repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, supported by comprehensive parenting education programmes, in recognition of international research showing that physical punishment is harmful to children.

Other remits covered issues such as water safety; promoting awareness about the importance of investment in the early years; development of a national child health database; and ending child poverty.

"Some families are not coping and their children are suffering. Unfortunately parenting is no longer a skill that is passed on through all families. It is not an easy job and it is one that demands support and understanding.

"We must give families the support and parenting knowledge they need in order to bring their children up as happy and healthy youngsters with a chance of a productive future in their communities and in society in general.

"Parents under stress need to know of effective ways to discipline their children. All of the research shows that physical punishment is among the least effective strategies for teaching and disciplining children.

"Parenting education must become compulsory in schools so that all New Zealanders grow up with an understanding of child development and of the skills required for parenting. At present, the Health and Physical Education Curriculum provides for parenting education but it is not taught in all schools.

"Our conference has sent us a clear message about the policies they wish us to pursue, including the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act. The Act provides a legal defense in situations of serious assault - it is not a defense needed by ordinary parents and its repeal is not about criminalizing parents. It's about sending consistent messages and ensuring children have the same protection as adults and pets. It's absurd that animals currently have more protection than children."

"We have been advocating for the health and safety of children for nearly 100 years and we intend to continue our advocacy for another 100. This sometimes requires us to take on the hard issues and the acceptance of these two remits is significant in that our members - all parents - are saying we must continue doing so," said Mrs Crowther.

KEY MESSAGES: SECTION 59

Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 is usually referred to simply as Section 59 and reads as follows:

'Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a 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.'

* Only an abuser needs Section 59. New Zealand doesn't need it. Ordinary parents don't need it.

* Repeal of Section 59 is about removing a law - not creating a new one.

o It removes the legal defense for a parent to physically assault their child and acknowledges that just like adults and pets, children should be protected against assault.

* Repeal of Section 59 is not about criminalising parents or introducing a new law against smacking. Just as jostling and shoving at a rugby match is technically assault, the police only take action when it goes too far.

* The vast majority of parents want the best for their children and they want to raise their children in a positive way. Physical punishment is not the most effective way to discipline children.

* International research shows that physical punishment is harmful to children:

- it impairs parent-child relationships

- it undermines child mental health

- it creates fear and aggression in children

- it fails to effectively teach children

- it increases the chances of child abuse (some research
shows that children who are hit are 7 times more likely to be kicked or punched).

* Plunket's National Conference passed a remit calling for the repeal of Section 59 supported by positive parenting strategies.

* The strongest predictor of physical punishment is approval (that is, if the law says it's okay then people will do it).

* The repeal of Section 59 gives a clear message that our government does not believe hitting children is okay.

* In order to allow public debate, Sue Bradford's Bill should be referred to the Select Committee. We encourage MPs to vote in support of a Select Committee hearing on the Bill.

* 17 countries around the world have removed legal defense for parents to assault their children. This is what section 59 is. In some of those countries it has taken time for people to fully understand and support the law change - it's possible it will take time for that to happen in New Zealand too.

ENDS

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