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More on Section 59 Submissions

Family Integrity has noted further common strands among the first 10 groups to present oral submissions on the Bill to repeal Section 59 before the Justice and Electoral Select Committee last Thursday.

5. The existence of Section 59 says violence is acceptable.

6. The Select Committee had before it a golden opportunity to exercise real moral courage and leadership by repealing Section 59.

7. Parents cannot be expected to know what is best, as they are operating in the absence of any formal training while we experts have the benefit of modern day theory and practice.

8. Research only shows negative results of physical punishment.

Such arguments are illogical and presumptuous.

Fifth, Section 59, they say, is to blame for most of this country's woes in the area of child abuse. Its existence has created a culture of violence toward children. If only this legal justification for parents to use "reasonable force" were repealed, it would send a clear message to society that child violence will not be tolerated. Again, they equate "reasonable force" with violence.

As evidence of the claim that the mere existence of Section 59 breeds violence in this country, reference has been constantly made to the cases where courts allegedly justified parents who, it was said by the pro-repeal lobby, committed acts of violence and abuse upon their children. The one case specifically mentioned during this Committee hearing was the lady in Timaru, the one Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro has on many occasions in the past referred to as the "horse whip lady". At this hearing, Kiro expressed her disappointment that the jury in Timaru acquitted her, justified the force she used on her child, which, in Kiro's view, was clearly abusive.

Now just consider what's going on here. Dr Kiro, not having been at the Timaru court, and already having shown her tendency to irresponsible exaggeration (the "horse whip" turned out to be an 18 inch riding crop, and the "bamboo cane" she has mentioned in the past turned out to be a bamboo garden stake, smaller around than your pinkey), insists that her opinion is superior to and should be regarded by her hearers as more accurate than the unanimous decision of 12 of her peers who had all the details of the case laid out before them in excruciating detail. As a matter of record, the Timaru lady's son voluntarily submitted to the discipline; the school was so impressed with his immensely improved behaviour that they commended his mum for it; the lady made no statements in her own defense, neither did she or her lawyer call any witnesses. They let the prosecution have free rein to do all they could to prove her guilty, and in so doing they convinced the jury she was justified and innocent. And the prosecution did not appeal the jury's decision. Yet Kiro's paternalism and arrogance toward this parent and toward the jury system is still so great, that she still cannot stop herself from publically denigrating them both.

The other case the anti-smacking lobby continually refers to is the "wooden plank" incident in Hawkes Bay. First of all, we must note that they rarely ever refer to any but these two. That's because cases of suspected child abuse where Section 59 is brought up are very rare, about 1.4 a year, according to YouthLaw soliciter John Hancock of Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa, part of the anti-smacking lobby. And in the majority of these cases, the defendant is found guilty. That means that Section 59 is working very well: parents who are tried using a Section 59 defence and who are justified are less than one a year and closer to one every two years.

Well, it turns out the "wooden plank" has also referred to as a "2 by 4". It was in fact a 30cm x 2cm stick, the same size as a wooden spoon. The boy had lied to his dad about stealing $40 from a visitor to the house, submitted willingly to the smacking and testified in Court that the injuries to his back had been sustained by serious abrasions caused by an accident that occurred several days earlier while roller-skating. Now most surprising in this case is that Section 59 was not used as a defense. So the anti-smacking lobby shouldn't even be using this as an example.

In addition to this type of dishonesty, the anti-smacking group somehow manage to bring up the names of children visciously and brutally murdered - Lillibing, James Whakaruru, Delcelia Witika, Tangaroa Matiu, Coral Burrows, Saliel Aplin, Olympia Jetson and Mereana Edmonds, whose killers are behind bars - and talk as though there is some kind of link between these monsters' actions and the "reasonable force" wording of Section 59. But there is no link at all. Section 59 was never brought up in any of these cases. And yet the Barnardos group said at this hearing, "How many more James Whakarurus and Lillybings do we need to sacrifice for the sake of Section 59?" What on earth are they talking about? Please, where is the logic in that?

Sixth, the Select Committee was encouraged to ignore the nay-sayers they would hear from in subsequent submissions (Dr Kiro was especially articulate in emphasising this) and to seize this opportunity to show real moral courage and leadership. That is, ignore overwhelming public opinion in favour of retaining Section 59 and repeal it anyway.

Seventh, several presenters affirmed that parents do not have the benefit of "modern child rearing theory and practice". The implication is that the 80% of New Zealanders who disagree with outlawing reasonable force are in the dark really, and fairly ignorant. And so these lobby groups want to use the force of law to bring us ignorant parents into line with their own peculiar biases and prejudices.

And these folks are biased; they have agendas, make no mistake about that. John Bowis of Save the Children said, "No force is reasonable." This is hardly a majority opinion. Maree Russell of EPOCH said smacking is morally wrong, that children have a right to the physical integrity of their bodies, as do adults. Of course, she didn't bother to qualify that statement to allow for parents wiping children's bottoms or to allow for state agents in the form of teachers, police and truancy officers to require children to attend schooling institutions several hours a day, five days a week for nine months a year for ten years and to sit where they are told in non-ergonomically designed chairs and to wear uniforms, whether they like it or not, just as adult prisoners have severe limitations on the physical integrity of their bodies as to where they can go and what they can do. Dr Prasad of the Families Commission said Parliament cannot wait for majority opinion to favour non-smacking disciplinary measures, but must take the lead and "give the strongest signal possible about violence", presumably by repealing Section 59. If they repeal it but then don't prosecute, as they all affirmed was the intention, how will that send any message at all about violence?

The CCS crowd was really confusing: they straight-up admitted that even though their client parents insisted that they needed a larger parenting tool-kit, one that included various types of force, to deal with their disabled children, CCS as an organisation disagreed with these very parents they claimed to be serving and wanted full repeal with no definition of "reasonable force."

The clincher was the comment made by UNICEF CEO Dennis McKinley: "All the opposition to repeal of Section 59 is coming from parents, and since they are the ones likely to be prosecuted, it is understandable." Perhaps Dennis was being more honest than most: his words were that parents are the ones "likely" to be prosecuted. It was clear that none of these groups perceived parents as the resident experts on child training and discipline, as the ones most highly motivated and possessing the greatest degree of commitment toward their own children's best interests, as the ones who know their own children most intimately by virtue of spending the most time with the children. These child advocacy groups made it clear that they know what's best for other people's children. The picture they painted is an adversarial one of parents against children with their various child advocacy groups as the good guys coming to rescue the children from their brutish, uninformed and selfish parents.

Eighth, most of them made reference to research showing only negative effects of violence toward children. All researchers, and nearly every parent, would agree on this. What was left unmentioned is the research on the effects of mild corporal discipline, "light smacks", research that took care to exclude clear and obvious cases of criminal abuse against children in its statistics. Such studies by people such as Dr Diana Baumrind of University of California at Berkley, Dr Robert Larzelere of the Univerisity of Nebraska and Dr Rex Ahdar of the University of Otago have shown positive effects of corporal correction. They uncovered the personal and methodological biases employed by researchers such as Dr Murray Strauss of the University of New Hampshire, Dr Joan Durrant of the University of Manitoba and Dr Anne Smith of the University of Otago. (Dr Larzelere states that he and Dr Durrant used the same set of Swedish data to arrive at opposite conclusions.) They highlighted the impossibility of isolating episodes of corporal correction from all other life experiences in a person in order to show a causal link between such episodes and negative social behaviours. (All researchers will admit this when pressed, but the pro-repeal researchers often fail to bring this up in their discussion documents and also use wording such as, "research has shown conclusively...", "we know from research that...", etc.) And Dr Ahdar has demonstrated how illogical and arrogant is the paternalism consistently employed by the anti-smacking lobby's arguments.

On top of the commentary contained in the clinical and academic research, there is the social and legal commentary of a unique group known as the Nordic Committee for Human Rights (NCHR). This is a collection of lawyers from the various Scandinavian countries who have seen the destruction of families caused by both prosecution of parents who practise corporal discipline (now defined in these countries as assault) and by social welfare agents removing the children from the homes where parents are accused of practising corporal discipline (accused of assault). This NCHR is dedicated to rectifying this anti-smacking legislation because it is so damaging to their societies. See www.nkmr.org .

Family Integrity hopes the Justice and Electoral Select Committee will pay attention to such people who have been down this proposed road and are now sadly occupied with picking up the many pieces.

Craig Smith National Director Family Integrity



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