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UNICEF New Zealand - Section 59

20.11.2006

Media Statement

UNICEF New Zealand

UNICEF New Zealand welcomed the Justice and Electoral Select committee report on section 59 Crimes Act 1961 and acknowledged the efforts of the select committee members to address New Zealander's concerns about harm to children. The committee recommended that Section 59 be substituted with new wording.

The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill also contains a strong purpose clause confirming the need to make better provision for the safety of children and clearly stating that the use of force for the purposes of correction is not allowed.

"This clause in particular is to be welcomed" said UNICEF advocacy Manager David Kenkel. "It picks up on the growing mood of the New Zealand public that current rates of child abuse are unacceptable and something must be done."

Our attitudes to the rights and needs of children have shifted in some very positive ways in the last few years. This is reflected in many new government and community initiatives promoting child wellbeing and in the level of interest and debate that the repeal process itself has attracted" He went on to add: "Perhaps though, our attitudes need to shift even further, as the wording of this proposed change to section 59 shows we are still too prone as a nation to put adult fears about their rights before the needs and wellbeing of children"

Dennis McKinlay the Executive director of UNICEF New Zealand, said:

"The intention behind the new wording is undeniably good and in line with the intent of the recommendations made in the 2006 United Nations Report on Violence against Children". However, he added, "In the effort to balance the well-being of children against adult concern about risk of criminalisation, wording is being proposed that falls short of the aim of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Children to ensure that children are fully protected against all forms of violence, including corporal punishment. He went on to say;

"The wording as proposed still allows the use of reasonable force in circumstances such as preventing the child from engaging in certain kinds of conduct such as criminal, disruptive, or offensive behaviour. This kind of wording creates a degree of ambiguity that risks mis-interpretation in the justice system in ways that have served children very badly in recent court cases. Keeping an ambiguous, subjective and ill-defined concept such as reasonable force in the legislation risks a repeat of recent New Zealand court cases where it was considered reasonable by some juries that children be struck with hoses and pieces of wood.

The fundamental question is: Does this substitution of wording improve the status of New Zealand's children? The wording of the bill as tabled today does not answer this question affirmatively in a clear and fully satisfactory manner; hence UNICEF continues to call for full repeal of Section 59 of the crimes act.

We believe that full repeal of section 59 remains the best option for enhancing the status and well being of New Zealand's children. We welcome the opportunity for further debate that the second reading of this bill will create within parliament and the public arena."

ENDS

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