August 2003

Dr calls for partial ban on physical punishment

Dr Shane Reti is a Northland general practitioner with a strong interest in the well-being of children and a wish to see children protected from violence.

He has been involved with research into local public opinion about physical punishment and his views and findings attract media attention.  Shane's research found that an overwhelming majority of adults interviewed in their homes were against hitting children in anger with an object (88%) and on the head (93%).  Dr Reti argues that it is these forms of discipline that result in serious injuries to children and because there is public support for banning these behaviours, the law should be changed to explicitly forbid them.

Dr Reti is a 'gradualist'.  He acknowledges that a full ban on physical punishment might be an eventual goal.  However, he thinks that because there is lack of support for a more widespread ban on hitting, it is unrealistic to ban all physical punishment at present and that Government policy should reflect the wishes of the public.

EPOCH New Zealand appreciates Dr Reti's concern for the well-being of children and respects his viewpoint but does not agree with it.  Rather than hastening a move towards a total ban, limited reform would set back efforts to change attitudes by maintaining a message that 'safe' violence is acceptable; that is, parental behaviour is 'safe' if it does not contain the risk of injury.  Child abuse can be little smacks that escalate into abuse.  The messages should be that no smacking is okay, that children can be raised to be well behaved without being hit and that parents need to learn how to guide children without hitting them.  Social change will take time and parents will need support and guidance (rather than punishment themselves) but we need to start with a goal true to what we want to achieve