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Introduction: making smacking illegal in NZ

In New Zealand, a coalition of feminist and child-protection groups are campaigning to completely ban corporal punishment of children. Although they claim to be motivated by high-minded ideals, and a desire for us to comply with obligations to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child,  it is notable that most of these groups stand to benefit professionally from the huge expansion in the pool of potential 'victims' and 'offenders' who would need treating as a result of such a law change.

Most New Zealanders (around 85% of us) do not support these moves, which would criminalize normal parenting practices, and further overload our already dysfunctional child protection agency CYF (Child Youth and Family). 

A petition against making smacking illegal has been proposed by PANIC, (Parents Against Negative Intervention by Child Youth & Family)  draft: “That the right of parents to use reasonable force in disciplining children, as provided for in section 59 of the Crimes Act, be retained as essential to good parenting and the effective upbringing of children.”

This led to a discussion among members of New Zealand fathers' groups, concluding: "The debate that has being going on is sufficient evidence that while we should debate this issue amongst ourselves, we should not be putting forward a position claiming to represent all fathers because there is not one."

So who is behind the move to ban corporal punishment?

Beth Wood, spokesperson for EPOCH New Zealand says "The message is we want New Zealand be to be the kind of society that does not hit children". Paul Prestidge spokesperson for the National Network of Stopping Violence Services says ,"How can we promote a society free from child abuse, family violence and violence generally and at the same time say that any hitting is reasonable? It's not just a question of ensuring that injured children are better protected, although this is important, it is also a question of changing attitudes to using violence as a solution to any sort of issue".

The middle ground?

Mr Bob Simcock, opposition spokesperson for Welfare, has placed a Members bill in the ballot. It is aimed at providing better protection for children under the law by defining what is not reasonable. EPOCH New Zealand does not support this proposal.

Northland Doctor Shane Reti suggests that banning parents from hitting children with objects and around the head is a reasonable position to consider. He has done research on community attitudes to hitting children: Setting boundaries around the physical disciplining of children in NZ [104 KB pdf] which showed that 88% of respondants were against hitting a child in anger with an object, and 93% were against hitting a child in anger around the head.

What is the scientific position?

Berkley Study Finds No Lasting Harm among Adolescents from Moderate Spanking Earlier in Childhood. “The state has significant interests in the well-being of its youth, but in the absence of compelling evidence that socially approved practices have harmful effects, it promotes children's welfare by respecting family privacy and parental autonomy and child-rearing decisions, thus protecting the supportive and the guiding features of family life that contribute to children's well-being and minimizing unnecessary intrusions into family life that are psychologically threatening to children by undermining their trust and parental authority, even when intended to advance their ‘best interests’.”

New Zealand Data

The Christchurch Health and Development Study: “findings suggest the need for child abuse prevention policies and interventions to avoid a narrow focus on physical abuse, and to take into account the family, social, and contextual factors that are frequently associated with abuse. In addition, it has been our experience for the research on physical child abuse to be over generalised in public debates; to imply that any physical punishment of children is child abuse that may lead to harmful psychological consequences. The present study does not support this interpretation.”

Other websites

Links to other websites about smacking "Larzelere reports that the small detrimental child outcomes reported by Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims (1997) for six to nine-year-olds is not unique to spanking.  A further analysis of the Straus, et al. data revealed that identical small detrimental child outcomes were also found for all four alternative disciplinary responses for six to nine-year-olds (grounding, sending the child to a room, removing privileges, and taking away an allowance.)"

"for most children, claims that spanking teaches aggression seem unfounded."

"when you compare the amount of vitriol, the excessive language, against the evidence concerning the 'harm' done by spanking it appears totally disproportionate."  

Next page: PANIC's proposed petition

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