July 2004

Editorial

The last few months have been very eventful:The last few months have been very eventful:

  • Summary of research on physical punishment, written by the Children's Issues Centre at the University of Otago, published by the Office of the Children's Commissioner.
  • Two-day seminar "Stop it, it hurts me: Research and Perspectives on the Physical Punishment of Children", held by Children's Issues Centre.
  • Associate Professor Joan Durrant from the University of Manitoba visited New Zealand, speaking at the Children's Issues Centre seminar and other venues.
  • The Government launched its positive parenting initiative "Strategies for Kids: Information for Parents" (SKIP).

Publicity about these events and the participation of many people in the seminars has boosted public discussion on physical punishment of children.  The literature review and Joan's presentations are academically rigorous, and their findings cannot be lightly dismissed.  They must be taken seriously for our children's sake.  There is clear evidence that physical punishment can put children at all sorts of risk, and that it is quite unnecessary in guiding children to behave well.

EPOCH New Zealand has been promoting these messages since early 1997 - nearly eight years.  The support of the Commissioners for Children and the EPOCH network has been invaluable.  There has been a huge growth in awareness of the need to change attitudes about hitting children.  There is energy, leadership and support for change from within the children's advocacy and social services sectors.  But most politicians remain unsure or opposed to ending physical punishment.

EPOCH New Zealand has recently reviewed its network with organisations committed to positive non-physical discipline and repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961.  Membership is still strong.  But some organisations have closed their doors and others may have had a change of staff.  About 40 organisations remain committed.  You can view the current network list on our website.  If you work for a social service or health agency, or belong to a professional organisation, you might wish to sign your organisation up with the EPOCH NZ network.  Organisations joining the network are not required to be members of EPOCH New Zealand (a charitable trust), and do not pay a subscription.  EPOCH New Zealand's bulletins and newsletter keep network organisations up to date with information about physical punishment, resources available and opportunities for advocacy.

For further information contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or contact EPOCH on www.epochnz.org.nz.

Despite growing support for change in New Zealand there is still a long way to go.  We still have an unjust law that discriminates against children; they are the only people whom it is legal to hit.  We do not yet have a public education campaign explicitly aimed at changing the social norm.  The barriers to change include the following:

  • Many New Zealanders resist the research evidence against physical punishment, and some are quite organised in their opposition.
  • Politicians are reluctant to take leadership against physical punishment, fearing to be unpopular with some voters, or appearing to meddle in family life, despite the clear evidence we now have that physical punishment is a risk factor for poor health and wellbeing outcomes.
  • The language used in the so-called ‘smacking debate'.  Terms like ‘banning smacking' and ‘criminalising ordinary parents' are used repeatedly, raising anxiety, and undermining our goal - Aotearoa New Zealand - a place where everyone knows it's not okay to smack or hit a child.