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rainbow ruler   :  Archive   :  2003   :  NZ Domestic Oct 2003


Domestic CP - October 2003

Corpun file 12485


The Press, Canterbury, New Zealand, 10 October 2003


Culture of abuse

Press readers have had the chance this week to consider the conflicting views about the Government's decision to make smacking less defensible in law. In a series of articles the paper has presented a debate that engages just about everyone and about which compromise is difficult. Smacking, plainly, touches something at the core of Kiwi thinking.

The reasons are easy to deduce. Corporal punishment has been practised here for as long as humans have reared their young in these islands and therefore is not about to be legally restricted without substantial opposition. As well, the physical admonishment of children arouses conflicting instincts -- repulsion at physical violence and feelings that parents are entitled to comprehensive control over their young. Smacking, in other words, is entrenched.

Few on either side of the debate state their position viscerally -- most justifications or criticisms of corporal punishment are comparatively sophisticated. But, when the arguments are stripped back, instinct is seen to be the foundation and it is this that gives heat to the dispute.

That emotional element has delayed resolution of the debate in otherwise socially advanced New Zealand. Other nations have taken the lead. We were late in addressing smacking in the classroom and only now are fumbling our way to stopping it in the home.

The Government is not intending to ban smacking. Rather, it wants to abolish the legal defence of reasonable force that has long been available to parents charged with physically ill-treating their children. However, the consequences of repeal are unclear. A plausible assumption is that court rulings will progressively reduce the law's tolerance of physical chastisement, reducing the leeway of parents. This is unacceptable because it prolongs the existence of such punishment and sows confusion. It would be better were the Government to have the courage of its convictions and enact an outright ban.

The issue is pressing. Violent crimes are increasing in New Zealand and violence in many forms saturates our culture. Most citizens have the moral and mental ability to cope with it. They are pacific in their behaviour towards other people and not seduced by the frenzy on their screens. But restraint is far from universal here -- a fact typified by the appalling and continuing series of crimes against children.

The causes of our entanglement with violence are complicated but one thing is clear: the signals we send out about it are confusing. Most confusing is the attitude towards corporal punishment. Because of its continued practice, many of our children are subjected to a potentially dangerous double standard. They are asked to accept that hits from their parents are justifiable but that hitting people is wrong.

No doubt most people eventually work through this hypocrisy, but some do not. Too many New Zealanders vent their anger with their fists, against spouses, workmates, acquaintances, or strangers. Too many New Zealanders think that the use of the shotgun and the baseball bat are not beyond the pale in the execution of crimes.

The smacking of a child and the murder of a child are far removed in the moral and physical hierarchy, but not far enough to guarantee that one will not lead to the other. They are both in the spectrum of violence.

Unless an absolute taboo against violence is established some people will continue to be unable to distinguish between the tap on the backside and the wielding of a baton to the head. That means corporal punishment should be banned -- must be if New Zealand is to cut the incidence of violence in all its manifestations.

Probably that deliverance is in sight. The removal of the legal defence of reasonable force is a first step because it removes the most convenient excuse available to parents faced with prosecution. In effect, parents will know that the law will be unforgiving if their treatment of offspring results in a prosecution, and no parent will be sure what will trigger such legal action. The onus will be on parents to spare the rod. Smacking will not be banned but it will have no legal justification.

That will probably reduce smacking, if only because it will make parents consider more carefully how they discipline their children and keep the issue in debate. This, together with the planned education campaign, should move us nearer to a complete and explicit ban.

Utopia would not thereby be created but we would live in a society where the use of physical force against people was illegal -- a legal sanction that would engender that powerful thing, a social taboo.

The Press, Copyright of Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2003, All rights reserved.

Corpun file 12484


The Press, Canterbury, New Zealand, 11 October 2003


Spare the rod

This week's debate on smacking, and whether the Government should repeal the legal defence for parents who use physical force against children, has proved a hot topic for Press readers. Today we feature a sample of your views.

Bringing up children

Sir -- When I was a lovely boy I got smacked at home and caned at school at times. When I considered it not deserved, I remembered the times that I should have been punished but was not and got on with my life. Often my hurt pride was the most painful part of my body. I did not turn into a frustrated, abused child and when I had kids of my own and smacked them when everything else had failed, it hurt me more than it did them.

A peace making cuddle sorted the emotions after the event. My mother always told me to remember, "one will never beat good into children, but it's easily beaten out of them". Bringing up children is love, trial, error, frustration, and love. Legislation should not unduly interfere with a balanced process of bringing up children; parenting needs protection too.


Hitting is violence

Sir -- When I started reading it, I thought Bruce Logan's column was a send-up (October 9). "Smacking" is good, "violence" is bad. Nonsense. They're the same thing seen through different coloured glasses. Smacking a child is hitting somebody small, and no matter how exalted the smacker's motivation, hitting is violence.

Every case of "serious" physical violence against a child starts out as a smack. The law won't allow Bruce Logan to smack me, or to smack his wife; if he worked in a jail, he wouldn't be allowed to smack rapists or murderers. Why should small children have less protection?

The sad thing is that parents who hit their children will never know what they've missed. At best, smacking's invisible but durable consequence is anxiety, which taints relationships and inhibits learning. At worst ... well, we've all heard criminals tell their stories.


Mass opinion

Sir -- So, my thinking is to be "re-educated" is it? Well, I have news for Commissars Clarke and Maharey. I shall continue to think as I damned well please and, incidentally, that does not include tolerance of violence toward children. As for the UN; well, they have proved themselves as effective as a wet bus ticket when it comes to alleviating the world's troubles, both great and small, so let them either put up or shut up.

It would appear to me that only Brian Donnelly and Muriel Newman speak with any form of constructive comment. Politicians of the "politically correct" variety would do well to remember that, just as they were elected on a wave of mass opinion, they can be unceremoniously ditched in the same manner.



Sir -- The debate about Section 59 of the Crimes Act concerns more serious matters than "smacking". Section 59 must be repealed because it means that some fathers who injure kids with implements are not convicted.

Although opponents of repeal have been scaremongering about "ordinary parents being prosecuted for smacking", similar repeals in other countries (e.g. Austria) have not resulted in trivial cases going to court.

PETER A. LOW Bryndwr

Selective paternalism

Sir -- Child soldiers of the Sudan, Zimbabwean children starving, indentured child slaves in India, subjugated children of an occupied Tibet, millions of children go without even the most basic necessities of life, yet the UN turns its blinkered sights on New Zealand and hand in hand with a bleeding heart Government, replete with contingents of child rearing experts (they used to be called parents) attempts to forbid New Zealand parents from use smacking as a discipline.

This Government needs to do more to support the majority of New Zealand parents who are doing a decent job on raising their children and get tough with those who won't, and help those who can't.

The UN needs to look to its priorities, rather than indulge in selective paternalism.

D. A. THOMSON Richmond

Positive parenting

Sir -- I think the Government should turn public attention away from whether to smack our children or not and focus on increasing public awareness and participation on good parenting, teaching, and mentoring. Instead of huge headlines with "Smacking" in them, replace them with even bigger headlines with "Positive, Effective Parenting" in them. Spend Government money on parenting education and fostering healthy relationships rather than waste time on changing a law that won't change our current culture one bit.

DEBRA METCALFE Christchurch city

Deliberate confusion

Sir -- According to Commissioner for Children Cindy Kiro, the UN is "losing patience" with New Zealand over our slowness in banning smacking (October 7).

Why is healthy physical discipline being deliberately confused with child abuse? A violent society is not the result of smacking. It is the result of poor self discipline, which stems from a lack of external discipline of the young. This should include corporal punishment when appropriate.

Fifty years ago, corporal punishment was commonplace in homes and schools. Violent offending was then significantly lower than it is today.

Responsible corporal punishment, by encouraging discipline and respect for others, reduces levels of real violence.

We should be restoring corporal punishment in schools, not trying to ban it in homes. Cindy Kiro! Hold out your hand!


Just say no

Sir -- Yes, the Government should change the law and ban smacking. I am a 73-year-old ex-teacher -- a parent of three children and a grandmother of three children -- and have always found better ways of disciplining children. The main one I think is only saying "no" when really necessary and then carrying it out.


Whip of love

Sir -- An English old saying I learned is "spare the rod, spoil the child". A similar one in Korea (and some other Asian countries too, I suppose) is "whip of love".

As depicted in The Press by Bruce Logan (October 9), smacking should be considered as parental affection towards sons and daughters, not violence.

I have no objection at all against Beth Wood's advocacy. I only want to say that smacking can be a way of guiding and disciplining children that is effective when it be done at the right time. Timing is a matter of each one's discretion. It seems a very delicate concept to describe in any written form of regulations. Instead of thinking of repeal of the law, it would be better to consider improving the social and home environment. It is not necessary to repeal the law because it says "reasonable in the circumstances". If it is not reasonable, that is violence to be dealt by law.

SUN HWANG Principal, Christchurch Korean School

Last resort

Sir -- Smacking is not abuse -- hitting a child with a piece of 4x2, cigarette butts, or something other than your hand is. My children have all been smacked at various times in their lives -- yes even in public. Smacking has always been as a last resort. Is smacking on the hand inappropriate to stop a child from poking at an electric plug when they won't stop?

A child keeps on running away in a crowd coming out of a rugby game in the dark. When he struggles and kicks and generally makes it very difficult to control, what are your options? A warning, then finally a smack.

I would rather have my child in one piece to love and to hold than think, oh well, at least I didn't smack him.

No matter what, there are always going to be people who abuse their position and use excessive force.


Busy bodies

Sir -- Ten million dollars spent to persuade people not to smack their children? Hmm. Those that beat, and I mean beat, their children will carry on doing it, and those that give their children a smack on the hand or bottom when needed will still do it. My concern is for the busy bodies who presume to tell others that they shouldn't smack their children -- are they going to run to the already overworked police and complain?

Whatever happens, please, please, please do not repeat those dreadful ads with the brat of a child screaming and kicking her feet and having been sent to her room, plots other things to do. My reaction to these ads were the opposite to what was intended -- I thought she needed a swift smack.


Painful consequences

Sir -- History proves that loving judicious smacking never produced the violent society. Our forebears obeyed the Bible, and bred responsible respectful citizens. The last two generations of parents tried Dr Spock's anti-smacking theories, and look what we've got now! The evidence is in, but no-one's taking the slightest notice. Parents who fail to smack calmly and use inappropriate instruments should be charged with assault. The law is there now for children's' protection, it just hasn't been enforced. It is vital, for society and the children, that they learn in their character-forming years that lawless actions will attract unpleasant consequences. Young casual murderers say they never thought about the consequences to follow, and they had no respect for another human being. They weren't taught respect for others, and to avoid painful consequences by self-control, by the method they best understand and respond to, a somewhat painful consequence to the bottom.

A. F. JENKS Wakefield

Good versus evil

Sir -- The Labour Party is certainly a party of contrasts. Now they are seeking to make criminals of parents for smacking their children. And this shortly after making good citizens of prostitutes. Parents smack their children because they love them. Children respect their parents who punish their wrongdoing, because punishment of wrong is good. This is the sharp end of a concept called justice. Labour refuses to listen to the many who cry out for justice, instead they condemn good and approve evil.

Helen Clark says that repealing section 59 of the Crimes Act will remove a defence for abuse. Which of these is a defence for child abuse: the right to use reasonable force to punish a misbehaving child, or the right to terminate a pregnancy? Justice is particularly necessary for our children, but it is in short supply in New Zealand.

DALE OGILVIE South Brighton

Breeding disrespect

Sir -- If the law is changed, children will take advantage of it, and it will breed children now and in the future when they are adults who will have no respect for authority.

Mothers and fathers must be allowed to smack their children if they are unreasonable. You cannot reason with an unreasonable child.

L. G. TAYLOR Hoon Hay

Violence myth

Sir -- I agree with Bruce Logan's comments (October 9). However, I object to his assumption that violence only occurs in families where there is a single mother and her partner.

Violence is a part of all sectors of society rich, poor, Asian, European, and Maori. The myth that violence affects only the disadvantaged needs to be dispelled and only when this happens can it be possible to address the serious issues of abuse. Denial of abuse within society is a child's greatest threat.

EVA HARRIS Riccarton

Family problem

Sir--I think the Government shouldn't change the law because most of the parents know to smack their own children within reasonable force if it's needed. It's the family problem and it shouldn't concern the lawyer.



Sir -- In your article (October 7) we read New Zealand is "facing stinging international criticism" and "has consistently been criticised by the United Nations committee". So what? Who is running this country? The Government should be accountable to New Zealand citizens and not to a pressure group from overseas.

We further read: "Cindy Kiro said New Zealand had not moved on the issue because an ill-informed public was against a change." So there is one person who thinks she is informed and millions of New Zealanders are not. How arrogant! But the Government begins to agitate about such people and ignores the views of 70 per cent of its own citizens and even tries to manipulate them.

Hitting a child around the head or with an object has nothing to do with smacking. Yes, the discussion and education need to continue, but without any pressure from overseas groups or individuals.


Intellectual arrogance

Sir -- Seventy per cent of Kiwis are ignorant? Intellectual arrogance! Children's commissioners and welfare advocates unfortunately see the darker side of child abuse and therefore are tainted to judge. I admit to applying a smack on the bottom of my four children when the occasion warrants.

Eighty per cent of this occurred before they were five years old. They know where the line is in our family without yelling or verbal abuse. No discipline is good when it is applied with anger. The point of a smack is to bring them to recognising that their behaviour is wrong and to give them an opportunity to say sorry. I am looking for a restoring of a relationship in a short period of time. So are they. Time out really works in an empty hallway where time stretches, not in their own bedroom. The real problem is no-one has been taught how to use a smack in a constructive way.


The Press, Copyright of Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2003, All rights reserved.

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