Monday, 25 February 2008
Press release: Ian Hassall
The attacks on the Children's Commissioner by the pro-smacking petition folk are becoming rather extreme. They have accused her of insulting past generations of parents by daring to suggest that the good old days might not have been so good for many children. "Incredible arrogance and intolerance", "out of touch with reality", they say.
What they fail to do is provide any evidence to back their claim that parents in the past on average achieved better results than present day parents. Of course it would be virtually impossible to find such evidence. How would you judge? If the measure is numbers of children killed and injured there is no discernible trend. What we do know is that at the time of publication of the 2003 Unicef report New Zealand had not shown the downward trend in child homicides that other OECD countries have had and it has been widely acknowledged within this country that we have a problem.
The connection between child homicide and the licence to assault children that was formerly provided by Section 59 of the Crimes Act is not difficult to draw although impossible to prove. Very likely more important in reducing the number of abused children in New Zealand would be a widespread respect for children's right to physical integrity.
The old law was a barrier to the development of this level of respect but with the debate leading up to its amendment there seems to have been a taking of stock in our attitudes toward our children. This is what the Commissioner has pointed out and I agree with her that it is healthy. Arrogant? No.
The petition folk are crusading under a banner of family values. We each have our own understanding of what is meant by the phrase. Some include physical punishment and threat in the meaning. Others have a different vision. One thing is clear. Family values are too important to be left to an extreme and angry group to define.