Another reason to make child abuse illegal

Sue B has been busy on youth wages lately, but her other Bill – the Section 59 Crimes Act Repeal Bill, which aims to remove the legal defence allowing parents to use “reasonable” force to discipline their children – is still on the go.

Submissions on the Bill close in 2 weeks, on 28 February, and in the meantime, the debate is getting another boost with the visit of Canadian psychologist Joan Durrant, who is today giving a Government-funded speech about the success of Sweden’s law reform in this area.

Dr Durrant is giving the keynote speech at the opening of the 10th Australasian conference on child abuse and neglect in Wellington.

Sweden was the first country in the world to ban all forms of physical punishment, in 1979. Dr Durrant’s research argues that this has reduced child abuse in Sweden to “virtually zero”. New Zealand, by contrast, where the use of “reasonable force” is still permitted, has the 6th highest rate of child deaths from abuse or “undetermined causes” in the world.

Dr Durrant’s research adds to the growing pile of studies which suggest that the sooner this law is changed, the better. This release of Sue’s from late January details some New Zealand studies which also back up the law change.

Sue says:

We just can’t go on ignoring the evidence, because of unfounded fears that parents will be turned into criminals for lightly smacking their children. These findings reinforce that it is imperative that we eliminate the anomaly in New Zealand law which gives people a defence of ‘reasonable force’ when they hit or beat children.

The fact that violence against children is legal helps to sustain a culture of ongoing severe violence.

There are many other options for child discipline and, in fact, the results show that children and young people find non-violent punishment like time out, grounding and loss of privileges have more impact on them. This is consistent with what many educators and researchers have been saying for years – physical punishment is actually the least effective in terms of changing what parents perceive as ‘bad’ behaviour.

You can read the proposed Bill here. Background on the campaign is here, and details of how to make a submission on the Bill are here.

40 Comments Posted

  1. no smack take ritilin instead, little darlings. one good cuff and they fixed, hardly felt a thing did yous fwog,

  2. I don’t need to say much in this thread because Eredwen has already said it most eloquently for me 😉

    I will just add this tho… to all the blokes in this thread (cos I don’t see any women here defending the right to hit their kids) who believe taht smacking (“loving” or otherwise) is sometimes the only means left to modify a childs behaviour… you need to watch a season of the TV series “The Nanny”!

    Also to kiore1: you make some excellent points here.

  3. kiore1 – you may be right, especially given that it is the publically stated position of police that they will charge people for spanking, that may be the greater concern in New Zealand.

    Dr Durrant’s research doesn’t have the inofrmation on children in state care, I’m using data collated by the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, and information from the annual report of CYFS. The number of children in foster care in Sweden (as a proportion of population, and population of children) is incredibly high.

  4. Edge “People aren’t worried about getting fines or going to prison, they’re worried about losing their kids.

    Like Sweden. ”

    From my own experience as an election candidate defending the Green stance, and from reading the pro-smacking literature that came into my in box, I disagree with the above statement. Most oponants of the bill held their view becasue they were afraid the police would prosecute for minor cases of smacking, or because they asserted their God given right to discipline their own children according to Biblical principles.

    I had a look at the research by Dr. Durrant on the situation in Sweden, and could not find anything about more children being in state care. What the research did show is that since Sweden brought in anti-smacking legislation assault charges against parents on children have gone down, and so have drug problems among young people. There have been non increases in assult charges brought against parents for minor smacks.

  5. psycho milt:

    “My view is that it teaches them that if they make someone angry enough, that person will quite possibly hurt them – and that’s a useful lesson to learn.

    … overstated I’m sure, but obviously spoken from experience!


  6. edge:

    As my young adult kids would say:


    I’ll leave the semantics to you.

    However, some children are being beaten, and I understand that there have been appeals to the High Court arguing exactly what you “don’t believe”.

    That is the problem with Section 59.


  7. eredwen asks:

    “Edge, I don’t understand your comment: “However eredwen, I disagree with your contention that a beating is reasonable.?

    From where did you get the idea that that was my “contention??”

    Pretty simple really – in an earlier comment you said:

    “Retaining the “right? to hit your child might mean that someone else retains a licence to beat his/hers.”

    Section 59 only gives parents the right to use *reasonable* force to correct their children. Asserting that s 59 gives a parent a licence to beat a child implies that a beating of a child can be reasonable. I do not believe that the beating of a child can be reasonable.

    Section 59 legalises reasonable force for correction, if you argue it legalises beatings then you are contending that beatings are reasonable.

    On another note: hands up who disagrees that a law that allows parents to behave reasonably toward their children is a good thing? Reasonable even.

  8. Indeed, I’ve never been able to get to grips with the conservative Christian thing of calming down and then delivering a “loving” disciplinary spanking – if I’d calmed down, hitting them in cold blood would definitely be off the agenda.

    I also agree that smacking kids isn’t the most effective way to teach them something, but I do think there’s plenty of room for disagreement over what they actually learn from it. The liberal view is that smacking kids teaches them it’s OK to hit people who are smaller than you. My view is that it teaches them that if they make someone angry enough, that person will quite possibly hurt them – and that’s a useful lesson to learn.

  9. Psycho Milt:

    I thought I should introduce a personal note …

    I write as a parent and not just as a professional. I had the experience of raising children as an unsupported sole parent. Their father “shot thru to Oz” for reasons of his own when our kids were one and five and I had to earn a living as well as parent.) As you can (perhaps) imagine my stress levels were, on occasion, off the charts! I have “been there, seen that” and even “done that”. So there is no “holier than though” component in what I have said and am saying.

    I prefer to stick to the discussion rather than make assumptions about the motives of others, as such assumptions are often “off the mark”.

    I don’t believe that smacking kids is the most effective way to teach them whatever it is that you are trying to get across, especially if it is a ritualised part of their “training”. Hitting very occasionally in anger (as long as it is not heavy) is less damaging than deliberate calm ritualised hitting. The latter sends very bad “vibes” along the lines of:
    ” Look, I am calm, I am not angry, I am hurting you “for your own good”, and I can because I am bigger and stronger than you.”

    I totally agree about the ability to defend oneself! However, please don’t make the mistake of assuming that a well trained female is safe from a group, or even one, determined male. She needs to be very good with her mouth as well!
    (In case you want my credentials here (!) … In my I was in a NZ representative in a sport that shall be nameless and later a well qualified coach of that sport. I compete now at Masters level, and at both levels female times compare(d) favourably with male times, BUT from joint training sessions I know that the men are physically much stronger!)

    kia ora!

  10. Edge, I don’t understand your comment: “However eredwen, I disagree with your contention that a beating is reasonable.”

    From where did you get the idea that that was my “contention”?

    However, since you raise the point, mores do change.

    I understand that under the current law some parents (some who live with the Old Testament of the Bible as their guide) have taken the matter to the High Court to argue that what (in today’s “climate”) would generally be regarded as “a beating” was justifiable as “reasonable force”.

    This has led to concern among child advocates and professionals alike. Hence the movement of people asking that the law concerned be looked at by our law makers.

    We are talking about our precious next generation here. They do not live in our past !


  11. Eredwen: my children are 9 and 6. It’s two years since I was their primary caregiver, since then the task is fairly evenly divided. I can’t remember the last time I actually had to hit one of them. I’ll give your suggestion re parenting classes all the due consideration it deserves. I don’t want to be the father of two “non-violent” young adults – I want to be the father of two young adults who treat others with respect but are fully capable of out defending themselves in seriously violent fashion when they consider it necessary – especially my daughter.

    Like Aladin, you seem to perceive children as robots who do no more than repeat observed behaviour. It’s a simplistic theory that ignores history. Your phrase “kids who are hit are more likely to become adults who hit” is an intuitive theory that requires social scientists seeking evidence for it to rig their surveys blatantly. A more accurate statement would be “kids who are abused are more likely to become adults who abuse”. I’m assuming the only reason you regard these two statements as synonymous is because you consider smacking abuse. Don’t expect everyone to agree.

  12. sagenz – I believe the answer is that they’re determined that the only way to criminalise the use of unreasonable force on children is to criminalise the use of reasonable force.

    eredwen – I think you’re probably right, but the answer is education, not prohibition – the Greens accept this with harmful behaviours surrounding soft drugs, I’m not sure why they won’t here. However eredwen, I disagree with your contention that a beating is reasonable.

  13. How many contributors in favour of the status quo have really thought about what they are advocating from a child’s point of view?

    Vulnerable children (who are predisposed to want approval and acceptance) don’t need to be physically “beaten into submission” by an adult who demands his/her “rights”. Retaining the “right” to hit your child might mean that someone else retains a licence to beat his/hers.
    Thus you may be instrumental in someone else’s child being disabled or killed by a less-in-control parent.

    A few classes in positive parenting skills might be a good idea! Children learn by watching and copying. They seek approval and they can easily be distracted from behaviour an adult regards as inappropriate.

    Kids who are hit are more likely to become adults who hit.
    Aotearoa NZ is already a violent society in some areas. It is time to break that cycle!

    C’mon guys, own up! How many advocates of retaining “the right to hit” have actually had recent experience of being the primary caregiver of a child or children?

    There are much more effective ways for Kiwis to raise their kids!

    eredwen (mother of two non-violent young adults)

  14. as an adult, if I physically grab someone by the arm that is assault. Removing s59 will mean every parent physically restraining their child from doing something harmful or dangerous is also committing assault. Can someone please explain why you want to make most parents criminals?

  15. TomS: who said it only upsets the right? Many leftists aren’t also wet liberals.

    Edge has summed up exactly what’s wrong with removing S59 – not the Greens view, that it will spoil all the fun we “bad” parents have beating our children with whatever implements come to hand, but the fact that it would criminalise damn near every parent. Sue Bradford might blithely assume the Police won’t prosecute you for picking up your kids and putting them in their bedrooms, but for my part I’d prefer not to be classed as a criminal for doing so. Beyond that even, anything that gives CYFS a better grip on parents ought to be opposed on principle, and removing S59 definitely does that.

    Aladin: my parents grew up in the 30s and 40s and on many occasions received beatings from schoolteachers or whoever, which most juries wouldn’t hesitate to call criminal today. They’re about as nonviolent as humans get, hardly ever even hit us. Your theory about how children learn doesn’t reflect reality, just your intuition. As to how we teach our kids not to hit or smack others, for one thing, I tell them not to. One of your jobs as a parent is to get your kids to do what you tell them.

  16. The analogy betweeen children and animals is not irrelevent. The relevent provisions of the Animals Welfare Act were enacted because it is recognised animals feel pain and have an interest in not being assaulted. Children and adults also feel pain and should have the same protection. It is totally irrelevent whether I get child support for a cat or dog (or even a child). Are we suggesting it would be okay to hit a child if we get child support for it, but not if we choose not to get child support – talk about irrelevent arguments.

    Most dog trainers now know that hitting dogs is not a way to teach or correct them. So again this is a useful analogy. Any dog trainer who hit a dog is open to prosecution. But a guardian of a child can still get away with it. So in this case we are providing more protection to animals than humans, and showing more wisdom regarding animal training than training children.

  17. As an aside, I’d just like to know how all those ‘pro smackers’ out there teach their children not to hit or smack others – with a ‘loving smack’ perhaps?
    Hopefully people will one day educate themselves and realise that even ‘an occasional light tap’ or ‘loving smack’ as they like to refer to it is unnecessary in bringing up their kids, it just shows a weakness on behalf of the parents and teaches children that hitting is ok.


  18. TomS – I’m pretty sure it’s not a minority of New Zealanders who oppose the criminalisation of parents who occasionally smack their kids.

    Even if you are right, and it’s a minority of parents who have ever spanked their kid you also ask why should we allow them the right to do so – I’m pretty sure that minority rights are protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990:

    s 20 [Rights of Minorities]:

    “A person who belongs to an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority in New Zealand shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of that minority, to enjoy the culture, to profess and practise the religion, or to use the language, of that minority.”

    For some s 15 [Religion and Belief] may also be in play:

    “Every person has the right to manifest that person’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.”

  19. James, if you really want to engage in debate then turn your brain on. You said “if you were hitting your kid in self defense (rather than to punish or *correct*), that might constitute a testable legal defense?”

    Umm no, as it is not correction,and as it is not discipline, it therefore has nothing to do with S59.

    Tom S, dont you read? Not all forms of assault between adults are illegal. See the comments section in this post for a few more clues.

    Kiore,are you a parent to a cat? Your example would only be true if you discipline your cat with reasonable force for the purposes of correction. But it has to be reasonable under the circumstances. Children are different, they are not pets, you dont “bring cats up”, you dont get family support for your cat, do you? Your analogy is irrelevant.

  20. One factor that is missing in this debate, which as an animal rights advocate I find ironic, is that children are given less protection under the law against assault than animals. If I treat a dog or cat the way the courts have allowed some parents to treat their children, then I would be certain to be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act.

  21. I don’t understand why the banning of using force on a child upsets the right so much. Any form of assault against an adult is illegal. Why should we expect children to have lesser protection? Many, many thousands – probably the majority – of children grow up without a hand being laid upon them, and they are all well adjusted citizens. Why should we allow special pleading for the minority that think it fit to hit their children?

  22. I think I can answer that James L:

    At present we have s 194 of the Crimes Act which prohibits the use of any force, no matter how small the force or fleeting its application, against children by adults (it is essentially identical to the provision banning assault generally – s 196 – just provinding for a harsher penalty).

    This means that, unless there is a defence (such as one of those RMC lists) any person who applies any force (be it a punch, a smack, or lifting the person off the ground) to anyone else commits a criminal offence. This doesn’t mean that police will prosecute every time, but what occurs is criminal.

    The other defences available (self defence, control of ship or aircraft by a master or pilot etc.) apply equally no matter the age of the person assaulted, what Bradford’s bill does is remove the one defence that applies solely between parents and their minor children – for the purpose of assault laws it will give children the same protection as adults.

    You will still be able to apply force to your children in circumstances where you would be able to apply to anyone else (to stop them from fighting or assaulting someone else, or to protect them from being run over etc) but you will not be able to do any more.

    In working out if something will be a crime if s 59 is repealed ask yourself “if I did this to the next person I don’t know who passes me on the street would it be a crime?” If the answer is “yes”, then it will be a crime to do it to your child.

    Would it be a crime to pick up the next person whom I hear swear in the street and carry them to a corner and tell them to stand there and think about what they’ve done?

    Yes. Then it would be a crime to do treat your son or daughter in the same way.

  23. The harsh reality is that Bradford simply doesn’t like the fact that juries of her peers have seen some forms of discipline as “reasonable” in the circumstances, when she doesn’t. We have a law. It is perfectly workable. “Reasonableness” is one of the key concepts of criminal law. Juries interpret it all the time, as they do in s 59 cases.

    Removing the “reasonable force” defence takes things out of the hands of juries (at least some pretense) at democracy and puts whether or not to charge parents in the hands of the police. No thanks.

  24. Thanks RMC for the legislative pointers. Without having yet checked em out, I assume these are examples of legislative recognition of acts of self defence? Fair cop.

    Does Bradford’s proposal eliminate picking up a child and carrying them someplace? If so, point conceded: that’s stoopid (my duh). My (admittedly cursory) understanding was that it prohibited all hitting, but not other forms of contact.

    Not sure of the answer to #5 Dave, but suggest RMC’s citations for a starter. Do these not indicate that if you were hitting your kid in self defense (rather than to punish or *correct*), that might constitute a testable legal defense?

  25. While I am interested in the debate, have not finalised my views on this and not convinced smacking is appropriate, I find it revolting that the Greens minimise other forms of child abuse by misusing language in this headline to, effectively claim, that child abuse is legal in New Zealand. Kids who have been raped or beaten till they are dead are not equivalent as kids who have had a LEGAL smack.

    Funny also how Sweden banned smacking before banning child pornography, which remained legal to possess in Sweden until only the late 90s and was being produced commercially there until the early 80s. Maybe that isn’t considered abuse in Sweden??

  26. James, what is your definition of violence, in the context of this? Does your answer change if I ask what is the legal defintion of violence in terms of the laws in our country.

  27. Ah James L, thats why we have juries. To hear the facts and put them into context and make a decision the Judge can act on. Its called justice from your peers. Better that than some authoritarian legislation trying to put into black and white what is actually gray. Besides I thought the party line was that domestic violence is caused by poverty not the people who do it?

  28. James L asks why would one support a law that makes it legal to hit someone?

    Because if someone punches me, I’d like to be able to stop them legally (Crimes Act 1961, s 48)

    Because if someone is beating up my friends I’d like to be able to stop them legally (also s 48).

    Because if someone is breaking into my flat, I’d like to be able to stop them, legally (s 55).

    Becuase if I’m on an aircraft, and some drunk idiot is endangering it, I’d like the captain and flight crew to be able to save us, legally (s 60).

    Because if my child is throwing things and I want them to stop before something gets broken, I want to be able to pick them up and carry them to a time out, legally (s 59).

  29. Why in hell would anyone support a law that made it legal to hit anyone, under any circumstances?

    Dave is right when he says that child abuse is illegal (duh). But equally naive if he thinks “reasonable force” constitutes a viable legal exemption.

    “Reasonable force” = “gaping loop-hole”. It will always be open to exploitation, such as the very mitigations Dave sites: “circumstances permit”, “purposes other than correction” etc. etc. etc.

    The law must oppose violence in all forms and in all degrees.

  30. A few things:
    1. child abuse is illegal
    2. smacking without reasonable force is illegal
    3. smacking with reasonable force for the purposes other than correction is illegal – nobody seems to have picked that one up.
    4. smacking with reasonable force with corection is only legal if the circmstances permit.
    5. If this bill does not ban smacking, which section of the crimes act will legally permit parents to smack their kids

    Sue Bradford is a hypocrite – she ignores all evidence that doesnt fit in with her narrow world view.

  31. On a more serious note:

    If Dr Durant is right, and child abuse in Sweden is virtually zero, then why is the per capita rate of Swedish children in state care twice that of New Zealand?

    Sue is setting up a straw man by arguing that police won’t prosecute people who lightly smack their children – of course they won’t, they don’t like wasting their time and no jury will convict.

    People aren’t worried about getting fines or going to prison, they’re worried about losing their kids.

    Like Sweden.

  32. Frog,

    child abuse IS illegal.

    Your suggestion that we make it illegal seems akin to Larry Baldock’s attempt to pass a law to make marriage between a man and a woman.

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