July 2004

Members? bills

Members' bills There are now three  Members' bills in the ballot aimed at reform of section 59 Crimes Act 1961.  Each reflects a different perspective on children's protection.

Sue Bradford's (Green Party) is the only one of the bills that demonstrates awareness of the fact that only full repeal of section 59 would:give children the same status and protection as adults in the law on assault; set a clear standard of non-violence in law; send a clear public health message that assault of anyone is a risk to their health and wellbeing.

Brian Donnelly's (New Zealand First) "The Crimes (Use of Force) Amendment Bill" is aimed at giving children better protection in cases that proceed to court.  He believes that by restricting how parents can punish children so that it is illegal to hit children on the head and neck and with implements, the children whose cases go to court will be better protected.  He also believes that an approach restricting physical punishment but not outlawing it completely would be more acceptable to the public.  Brian's bill, if enacted, would not give children the status and protection in law as adults but it would provide better protection for children in court; not set a clear standard of non-violence in law; not send a public health message that all physical punishment carries risk for children.

Murray Smith's (United Future) "The Crimes (Parental Discipline) Amendment Bill" is aimed at protecting children who have been abused by defining criteria the judge and/or jury have to take into account when deciding whether an act of violence towards a child was discipline or abuse.  The bill, if enacted, would not give children the same status and protection as adults in law and given that the criteria he uses are open to interpretation, it is possible that children in court may not be better protected; not set a clear standard of non-violence in law; send a public message that some violence to children is acceptable and a very confusing message to parents who would have a long list of undefined criteria to take into account when deciding how and when to smack their child.

Sue and Brian have publicly stated their personal view that physical discipline is not an essential part of child rearing.  Sue's bill makes children's rights to physical integrity a paramount consideration.  Murray's bill reflects a belief that physical discipline is a part of child rearing and a parent's right.