February 2006

Obstacles to change

EPOCH NZ repeatedly hears from people who worry the following points frequently raised as obstacles to change:

  • Fears that parents will be criminalised for minor assaults on children - for the occasional use of  "small smacks".
  • Objections to state interference in family lives. (The Nanny State objection).


These are capitalised on by opponents of repeal who exaggerate them and use them to defend their unwillingness to give up hitting children despite all the evidence we now have about the risk factors associated with the use of physical punishment.

Smacking is a long standing tradition in all cultures in New Zealand. It will not immediately cease with a law change although over time it will reduce significantly.  Clearly because of the distress and disruption a prosecution would cause it would not be in "the best interests of children" to have parents of children who occasionally smack prosecuted.  Rather parents need information and support.

EPOCH New Zealand has always believed that  fear of "criminalisation" is unfounded.  A person does not become a criminal until he or she is found guilty in a court of law and:

  • other countries that have reformed their law have not experienced an increase in prosecution for minor assaults.
  • complaints to the Police and prosecutions for minor or "technical" assaults on adults in New Zealand are very rare - why should it be different for children?
  • Police have discretion about who and what they prosecute. They can be relied on to make decisions that are in the "best interests of children" ie only when children are at risk of significant harm.
  • the principles of our child protection law "The Children Young Persons and their Families Act 1989" set a standard of intervention in families that is as non-disruptive and supportive as it can be depending on the degree of risk of harm to the child that is assessed.

Surely, if all this is not reassuring enough, our policy analysts, legal drafters and politicians can be creative and come up with solutions to protect adults from prosecutions when prosecution is not in a "child's best interests". Such protections might in Police prosecution guidelines, or screening systems to ensure that a prosecution for minor assault only proceeded when it was in a child's best interest

The "Nanny State" argument is entirely adult-centred, reflects the outdated notion that a child is property and ignores the State's responsibility to ensure that its legislation promotes the health and safety of all its citizens and meets it's internationally agreed and endorsed human rights obligations.