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Section 59 and child abuse

Written By: - Date published: 11:45 am, August 4th, 2009 - 26 comments
Categories: child abuse, child discipline - Tags: , ,

Late last week households around the country received their referendum envelope that asks “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence?”

Leaving aside the ambiguity and lack of clarity in that question, the lack of opinion based on fact and any semblance of common sense apart from Chicken Licken Family Fist blathering about god knows what, it’s not surprising that in our short term mindframes we can’t think too far ahead lest we self implode.

While the removal of s59 is not intended to stop child abuse, it has the ability to start reducing our shocking abuse rates which are amongst the highest in the world.

Complaints to the police on parents smacking their children have increased in the past two years since the law was enacted. With the rise in complaints, it now affords the police the chance to investigate the home lives of those who have complaints laid against them. Parents who run a good household have the least to fear as the police will generally see that the children are well looked after and they don’t fear their own parents as they don’t live under the threat of “getting a hiding”. Police see this, and determine the nature of the complaint is “not in the public interest to prosecute.”

Contrast this with a visit to a home where the recycling bin is full to overflowing with beer bottles, the house has that acrid tang of tobacco and marijuana, and shouting can often be heard, it can be a good indicator of the way the kids in that home are treated. After all, what self respecting parent is going to carry a belt out in public to thrash their kids with the buckle end? It’s a smack now, a hiding later at home.

Using the police stats here we can determine the following:

  • People are now reporting more instances of possible abuse against children
  • “Smacking” events are still low, and are not being prosecuted as smacking is not an offense
  • Other child assault complaints have increased drastically from 96 complaints after s59 repeal in June 07 to an astounding 232 as at April 2009.

Attitudes in society are changing, and the public are no longer content to sit by and watch parents belt their kids. Based on the overwhelming public response against the perception that “smacking is illegal” it seems parents choose to ignore those who do nothing more than smack with the hand, but are reporting anything over and above a smack – like punching a 4 year old in the face.

The way I see it, the long term prognosis for this attitude is positive. If the populace continues to believe that a light smack shouldn’t be illegal, but ever other form of discipline is, then maybe, just maybe, our children will no longer be seeing their classmates come to class on Monday morning with a black eye and fat lip.

– Jasper.

26 comments on “Section 59 and child abuse ”

  1. Boris Klarkov 1

    Synopsis – Throw more welfare at South Auckland beneficiaries that murder their kids. Prosecute decent Kiwis that discipline their children.

  2. vto 2

    Physically striking out is an inate human reaction as natural as the air we breathe. Just as it is with near every other creature on the planet. I predict that the swing today away from anything physical with regard to punishment will reverse in the future. Duels, cat-o-nine-tails, rock breaking, etc will return …

    I also note that the only organisation who can legitimately use physical brutality to enforce is the state. Ironic.

    But anyway, now that physical abuse is now completely outlawed anywhere the attention can move to psychological abuse. Why is there no law against that? After all – have a ding dong with someone and it is nearly always not the physical abuse which is harmful it is the attendant psychological abuse.

  3. jasper 3

    I agree – but while laws are in place against assault, what adult is going to make a complaint to the police against a smack on the butt, given to another adult – which is what we’re being asked to do with children.

    Physical abuse isn’t completely outlawed as “a smack is not an offense”

    Thus the point remains, parents are less likely to report a smack, but they are now more vigilant in informing the police of possible child abuse, where it’s clearly more than a smack.

    How can you legislate against psychological abuse?

  4. Walter 4

    I am disgusted at the dual dishonesty of the ‘pro-smacking’ campaigners.

    (1) Their real objection is on religious grounds – apparently their invisible ghost requires them to beat their children in order to gain eternal life.

    (2) The wording of the referendum is intentionally dishonest.

    Why don’t they just level with us? They are unhappy that their superstition is no longer mainstream belief. Christmas is now about plasticware, Easter is about chocolate – and childrearing is no longer about indoctrination.

    I am reminded of the words of the great poet, “There’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over” – Frank Zappa.

  5. SJ Hawkins 5

    get real Walter, while some of the ‘pro-smackers’ a may be religious I doubt that none of the anti-smackers are. It’s a mixed bag, and I’d posit that only a small percentage of the pro-smackers are religious at all. Possible they are over-represented statistically but imagine if your line of argument was used to blame Maori for crime because they are over-represented in our courts and prisons?
    I am reminded of other words by the same poet, “who you jiving with that cosmic debri?”
    I don’t care much for the wording of the referendum either but it is what it is, and it is what we are asked to vote on. Personally while I agree in principle on changing attitudes about corporal punishment I think it is something that needs to be phased gradually. Two issues I see with completely outlawing smacking instantly (and I’m not claiming this is what Bradford’s bill was about) are 1) that more ‘nosy neighbour’ situations have arisen that see undue stress placed on families when police turn up at their door because little Johnny got a smack after he hit his sister, and 2) that some precocious little brats use the fear of reporting mum and dad to cops/CYFS to blackmail them into letting them get away with bad behaviour.
    Anyway, the crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe!

  6. Walter 6

    SJ, – What kind of a guru are you?

    I wasn’t talking about those who support ‘a light smack’ – which is most of the country. Its the ‘campaigners’ who I feel are being dishonest and hijacking a reasonable debate.

    Love the FZ references, well done.

    • SJ Hawkins 6.1

      Lol Walter, I grew up on a steady diet of Zappa but my favourite was always Joe’s Garage. Memorised it 20+ years ago and still sing it in the shower.

      With regard to the ‘light smack’ if that was what the law said (along the lines of the Borrows amendment) I don’t think we’d currently be spending $9mill on a referendum.

  7. SJ Hawkins 7

    jasper, you say “If the populace continues to believe that a light smack shouldn’t be illegal, but ever other form of discipline is…”
    My principal objection to the new S59 is that the judgement of what is and isn’t appropriate is subjective rather than defined in the law. Technically all physical forms of correction are illegal, and it is only if the police decide not to prosecute that someone who uses a light smack is let off. They have still technically broken the law however, and IMHO I believe that is why there is such support for the No vote in the referendum.

    I much would have preferred the Borrows amendment to have been adopted. I am aware that there is considerable oppostion to any form of physical correction of children, but I think it would have been the appropriate course of action for the time we are at. Further down the track (maybe after a generational change from the ‘good hiding’ parents to the ‘light smack and time out’ parents) it would be appropriate for the next step. Perhaps it’s just me as that is where I’m at, but I’m guessing about 80%+ parents are in the same phase.

  8. The Voice of Reason 8

    Well, my YES vote is winging it’s way off to the Electoral Office. While it’d be great if the kids win, even if the bashers do get the majority vote, it’s nice to know Parliament are going to ignore them anyway.

    The important change is not in the law, it’s in parents’ minds. It seems to me that NZ is coming to understand that we will not get violence out of our society if we don’t get it out of our homes.

    And a quick warning to SJ and Walter; don’t eat the yellow snow, that’s where the husky’s been!

    • SJ Hawkins 8.1

      Really, it’s enough to make me rub a mittenful of the deadly yellow snow into your beady little eyes 😉

  9. Ianmac 9

    Sweden banned all violence against children in 1979. Youth crime has trended downwards steadily since that time. It is 25% lower now than 10 years ago. The belief is that children growing up violence free, become themselves as parents violence free. Takes time.
    In Nz 6-10 children a year are murdered. In Sweden 2 per year. (Population adjusted.) Yes. I know that Sweden is more mono-cultured.
    Defining what is OK gives permission when it is never OK.

    • SJ Hawkins 9.1

      Can you link to the proof of that, and have you looked at this;
      http://www.nkmr.org/english/anti_smacking_law_consultation_paper.htm

      • Ianmac 9.1.1

        Thanks SJ. I did not read it all but from a quick squiz it seemed to be expression opinion and therefore not much help. Parents fearing etc.
        I got my most recent from Dita de Boni:4. Sweden was the first country to prohibit all corporal punishment of children in 1979. (This was followed in the 1980s by almost all Scandinavian countries). Despite the fact that modern Swedes believe violent crime is rising in youth, “government statistics show that the violent crime rate among teens has reached its lowest recorded level in more than 25 years; between l990 and 2000, the juvenile crime declined by 56 per cent.” (Child Trends Research Brief, July 2003)

        5. Sweden has the lowest rate of child mortality in the world and that figure has decreased in the decades since anti-smacking laws have been introduced.

        • SJ Hawkins 9.1.1.1

          Ianmac, there is a lot of proposition, supposition and research supporting both sides (mild physical discipline on the ‘pro-smacking’ side though, I must qualify). One interesting read is comments on the British Medical Journal, in response to a paper published (I wasn’t prepared to subscribe to read the paper, so only read the comments). These comments are from medical professionals who I consider would have experience in the matter and well-thought through views.
          http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/320/7230/261

  10. Rex Widerstrom 10

    Did I just see “only the guilty have anything to fear” advanced as justification for increased police snooping powers, rooting through our rubbish bins and sniffing our very air?

    I mean I’ve always known that the urge to totalitarianism knows no ideological boundaries, I just wanted to be sure that you do, Jasper.

    • jasper 10.1

      It was used, guilty as charged.

      Increased police powers? No more so than usual, except now they’ve got the basis of a complaint with which to use.

  11. The Voice of Reason 11

    Yeah, I wondered about that, too, Rex. Thought I was on Kiwiblog for a moment. Still, better the cops going through our garbage than Crosby/Textor I suppose.

  12. BLiP 12

    Smacking children does not correct them in any way. Those blinded by faith or feeling oppressed by the state or their position as a parent underminded or struggling to maintain their Head Of The Household status or otherwise still unable to understand, <a href= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIBgxsr5UlIhere's the reasons why not.

  13. Ron 13

    For Christ’s Sake! Read the bloody law!
    Every parent of a child, and every person in the place of a parent of a child, is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of:

    a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or

    b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or

    c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or

    d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.”

    McCroskie et al are either idiots or dishonest. I suspect the latter.

  14. “For Christ’s Sake! Read the bloody law!”

    Then you quote only part of it. The part which is subservient to the other section.

    “McCroskie et al are either idiots or dishonest. I suspect the latter.”

    Maybe an insight into your own motives?

  15. aj 15

    “Then you quote only part of it. The part which is subservient to the other section”

    The subsection only overrides it if force is used for correction, not prevention. The clauses Ron mentions provide a wide amount of room for parents to use force for prevention if required. E.g if little Johnny was running around the supermarket pushing over food displays a parent would be quite entitled to grab them and smack them to stop it.
    Why anyone would yould use force outside those four clauses escapes me entirely.

    That recent TV1 poll came out with a large majority who think that the law does not work. I suspect many people have interpreted this question to mean ‘has the number of child abuse cases gone down’ and of course the answer is no.
    The question was poorly worded and should have read ‘has the law change stopped parents escaping prosecution for assualting their children, which was the case under the old section 59’
    The smokescreens being thrown up by McCroskie et al are obscuring the real issues here but I have no doubt this is their sole intention.

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