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Marc Alexander - Smacking away parental rights

Marc My Words…

23 February 2007

Political comment
Marc Alexander
Smacking away parental rights

Seems to me we’ve let the lunatics have free reign in parliament. Sue Bradford's private members bill to repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act was backed by Labour, the rest of the Greens, the leader of the so-called Progressives and United last Wednesday. Despite the rhetoric and hot-air on the issue regarding being opposed to child abuse, no-one should be misled: the bill, if passed, cuts to the heart of the role of parenting. This is the nanny state intruding on the rights of parents. Bradford, Clark et al desperately want to apply this kind of ‘feel good’ interventionist balm on the canker of child abuse as a way to ‘prove’ that they’re doing something about it.

Does anyone really think that doing away with parental rights to determine the appropriateness of discipline will have any effect on our child abuse rates? This is nothing less than bringing in the state to intercede and disrupt the family relationships. It is an attack on ‘family’.

Now…the piece of legislation (Crimes Act 1961) at the heart of the debate is an example of simplicity and elegance. It reads:

(1) Every parent of a child and, subject to subsection (3) of this section, every person in the place of the 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.
(2) The reasonableness of the force used is a question of fact.

How hard is it to understand the word reasonable? By definition it precludes abuse. Tinkering and word-smithing will increase the likelihood of ambiguity not diminish it. Once we go down the track of saying what implement, force or purpose may be applied, we’ve already lost the plot by trying to encapsulate a contingency for what constitutes reasonable. In a very real way, we destroy rather than enhance its meaning.

To yank a child from the road when in danger from traffic is using reasonable force. Similarly it can also apply if your child is self-harming and physical restraint is needed. There are many situations where not to apply reasonable force might itself constitute abuse.

In any case, the repeal of section 59 will criminalise parents and turn their children, neighbours and school teachers into government ‘spies’ as the frontline to ensure compliance. Parents will risk prosecution, fines or a prison sentence. Meanwhile the child would be removed from the home and placed in state care. That may be a scarier prospect than even CYF’s may care to admit. On June 17, 2002 the Dominion ran a report showing that in the previous three years more than 150 children had been removed from State foster parents after being physically, sexually or emotionally abused by them. Details issued by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services under the Official Information Act show that between July 1999 and June 2000, 61 children were removed from their foster parents’care after suffering substantiated instances of abuse. These are kids who were removed from their original families on the premise that they would be safer in State care!

Fifty-two children were removed from foster care between July 2000 and June 2001, and 45 between July 2001 and March 2002. That constitutes a rate of abuse of children under 17 twice the rate occurring in the general population. Those who claim that no police would prosecute a clearly sensible application of the law (as a result of the repeal of section 59), miss the point – some over-zealous 24 year old idealistic social worker with the best of intentions would!

In many cases the biggest abuse of our children is not committed by parents but by the state.

Sadly, we have a tragic record of child abuse in this country: ten year old Craig Manukau was kicked to death, Delcelia Witika, Anaru Rogers, James Whakaruru, and little Lillybing of Carterton all died at the hands of their caregivers. Another toddler, two-year-old Sade Trembath, was beaten so badly by her grandmother that she has permanent brain damage. Let’s not forget the murder charge laid against Hamilton foster father Michael Waterhouse for the death of three year old Huntly boy, Tamati Pokia. The shameful roll call goes on.

Before we get carried away…let’s pause and reflect that in none of these instances was there even a faint hint of reasonableness: these were all instances of appalling abuse. How many truly believe that a change to section 59 would have saved any of them?

How we deal with child abuse in New Zealand has nothing to do with section 59, but everything to do with a disparity between parental responsibility and abuse of children. To criminalise the majority of parents in order to deal with a proportionately small group of truly ‘evil parents’ is patently absurd.

If we want parents to be held responsible for how their kids turn out, why are we taking away the means by which some parents can parent? If it is child abuse we want to target, then let’s stop wasting time attacking good parents and do more to prevent abuse happening in the first place. Let’s start treating those parents as the criminals they surely are, with meaningful sentences.

Child abuse is already illegal and isn't protected by section 59 anyway. If the likes of Sue Bradford really did want to do something about child abuse then lets 'up' the penalties. Why not provide meaningful sentences and a term of natural life for the very worst offenders?

The Bradford Bill is the latest in a prolonged attack against our kids. The simple truth is that government no longer trusts the people. Under Labour, and the influence of the Greens, they have enacted legislation that strips the primacy of family in society – replacing it with itself. By blinding us with an orgy of diversity-based rights, the last bastion of inter-generational strength, the family, is being unceremoniously dumped from centre-stage. The rights of children to a mother and father, parental discipline tempered within an environment of love, compassion, and commitment is close to being a thing of the past. The institution of family is slowly being eroded and replaced by an accommodation of expressly defined relationships sanctioned by the state.

Ever since they abandoned all the other disciplinary measures my forbears and I grew up with (strapping, caning etc) I note how the violent crime rate has exploded. How much more will the Bradford restrictions on parental discipline exacerbate that I wonder?

When governments start debating what reasonable means, when they second-guess the care provided by good parents, and confuse parental responsibility with child abuse, it’s clear they deserve to lose the confidence of those they purport to represent. They need to go.


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