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Commissioner calls for repeal of Section 59

25 May 2006

Children’s Commissioner calls for repeal of Section 59

Today, Children’s Commissioner, Dr Cindy Kiro, presented her oral submission on the Bill to repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act (1961). Section 59 says that parents are justified in “using force by way of correction of a child if the force used is reasonable in the circumstance”.

It allows parents who are arrested for assaulting their children to use section 59 as a defence by saying that the assault was justified, reasonable or carried out to discipline the child.

The United Nations has been critical of New Zealand because section 59 is seen to violate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) of which New Zealand is a signatory.

“Repeal is a fundamental and necessary step to ensure that children in New Zealand grow up in safe and secure environments, including family environments, free from all forms of violence,” said Dr Kiro.

“Parliament have an opportunity to demonstrate moral and political leadership on behalf of the children of our country. This leadership has been demonstrated by the hundreds of community-based organisations who are supporting repeal, not amendment. They have reached this decision after carefully considering all the evidence. I strongly oppose any attempt to amend the Crimes Act to define reasonable force. This would send a message that some degree of violence is acceptable. It is not.”

“Although most incidents of physical punishment do not lead to child abuse, research has shown that most incidents of child abuse arise from physical punishment. Moving the parenting ‘norm’ away from negative discipline to more positive approaches will shift all of our statistics in a more positive direction.”

The Children’s Commissioner is aware that fear of criminalisation of parents is a widely held public concern.

“Removing a statutory defence to assault of a child by parents does not create an offence of physical punishment for which parents can be prosecuted and convicted,” said Dr Kiro.

“Research commissioned by my Office in April 2006, showed that baseline public support for repeal was lower than in a similar Canadian survey. However two-thirds of the 611 people surveyed who did not agree with repeal of Section 59 would agree with repeal provided guidelines were developed to prevent prosecutions for mild slaps and smacking. Combined with the 17 percent who strongly supported repeal from the outset, there is considerable public support for repeal, provided parents are assured that they will not be prosecuted for minor technical assaults.”

“In addressing concerns about criminalisation of parents, a key consideration should be the best interests of the child. Repeal is consistent with a legislative and policy context which prioritises a whole child approach and working for improved outcomes for children.”

“I encourage our politicians to have the courage to act to make childhood safer, with more positive outcomes and to contribute effectively towards children in our society. This Bill provides them with a real opportunity to do so.”

ENDS

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