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NZ should follow international trends

Children’s Commissioner says New Zealand should follow international trends

“Repealing Section 59 of the Crimes Act is the right thing to do for children,” Children’s Commissioner, Dr Cindy Kiro said today. “They have the same right to be free from assault that adults do.”

That seems fairly straight forward, so why is the issue getting such a vocal and emotional response from some sectors of the community?

“People are reacting to their own emotions and memory of their own childhood. Very few of us have grown up in an environment that was completely free from violence. What people need to realise is that they may have happened in the past, but like many things it’s not right anymore.”

“I also think some people feel that there’s been too much leniency and liberalism developing generally. So children are one of the last groups they feel they can control.”

This may seem like a new social phenomenon for New Zealand but looking internationally, around seventeen countries have already outlawed corporal punishment of children.

Apart from protecting children from violence, the Commissioner also believes there are far more effective ways to discipline children than using physical force.

“Hitting children is a way of getting compliance, but there are more thoughtful and positive ways to parent children. It means parents can’t just react however. It requires that parents know what to expect of their children within their developmental age, and anticipate certain behaviours.”

For Maori, the whole issue is especially important.

“You know most surveys have shown that Maori parents support the reform. I believe that our people genuinely want to be good parents. We need to send a clear message out to our people that there are better ways to discipline our tamariki.”

Dr Kiro says that there has been some courageous support from the bill from Maori.

“Groups like Amokura (a coalition of iwi in Te Taitokerau), and HAPE in the Waikato have supported the reform against the tide of opinion. These were real acts of courage, and will help us change the acceptance and tolerance of violence that currently exists.”

Seventeen states have now introduced in law a specific prohibition on physical punishment:
· Sweden (1979)
· Finland (1983)
· Norway (1987)
· Austria (1989)
· Cyprus (1994)
· Denmark (1997)
· Latvia (1998)
· Croatia (1999)
· Bulgaria (2000)
· Germany (2000)
· Israel (2000)
· Iceland (2003)
· Romania (2004)
· Ukraine (2004)
· Hungary (2005)
· Greece (2006)
· The Netherlands (2007)

Maori child abuse

1998-2003 data (Ministry of Social Development) show rates of abuse for Maori children decreasing from 13.0 per 1000 children aged 0-16 to 11.9 per 1000 children in 2003. These rates are still high compared with non-Maori rate of 5.9 per 1000.

For the period 1991-2000, children most at risk were Maori boys aged less than one.

In 2004 a study by University of Canterbury Researcher Mike Doolan found that:

1. The New Zealand profile of child death by homicide conforms largely with that found in other developed countries;
2. The incidence of child death by homicide in New Zealand has not changed significantly over the past 30 years. However, the rate of child homicide is reducing in over half the countries of the developed countries, while the New Zealand trend has been towards a slight increase;
3. There are statistically significant differences in the rate of homicide of Maori and non-Maori children and the differences have widened over the past 25 years;
4. The child most at risk of fatal violence in New Zealand between 1991 and 2000 was less than one year of age, male, and Maori. He was most likely to die from battering, sustaining head and other fatal bodily injuries inflicted by one of his parents.

Positive parenting

Things parents can do instead of smacking

Distract the child: give them something else to do, if they are doing something you don’t like.

Criticise the behaviour not the child: tell the child what you don’t like rather than saying things like “you’re a bad boy” or calling them names.

Ignore behaviour you don’t like: as long as the child isn’t hurting anyone ignore it.
Take away something they like: remove privileges as a punishment.

Use time out: apart from correcting behaviour you don’t like, the child learns how to manage their behaviour and feelings.


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