July 2005

Editorial

In the last few months physical punishment has been constantly in the news.  There have been two court cases (see page 2) and MP Sue Bradford's Members Bill for full repeal of section 59 Crimes Act 1961 was drawn from the ballot in Parliament and at first hearing on 27 July was referred to Select Committee.

What do we want in New Zealand?

We are facing a critical time for New Zealand with the possibility of a decision on repeal or amendment of section 59 being made in the next term of government.

EPOCH New Zealand advocates:

  • full repeal of section 59 Crimes Act 1961
  • public messages that clearly say: "don't smack - smacking harms"
  • education for parents and communities about positive non-violent discipline - for example, through SKIP (Strategies with Kids; Information for Parents)
  • a principle in law that sets an explicit standard of positive non-violent discipline (perhaps in the Children Young Persons and their Families Act 1989).

There will be a need for public reassurance that parents will not be prosecuted if they occasionally smack their children. Only this full package of measures will ensure that children's rights are fully respected, and that the social norm of smacking and hitting will change over time.  In the short term, the first three goals above are the priority.

The risk now is that the Government will introduce half-measures - a likely scenario being partial reform (amendment) to define in law how children can be hit.  For example, an amendment to the Crimes Act might state that children may not be hit on the head or neck; and not hit with implements.  EPOCH New Zealand believes that partial reform would achieve very little.  The law would still say to parents that it is okay for big people to hit little people.  It would still provide legal support for this use of force in domestic matters.  A form of family violence would still be legal.

Who supports full repeal?

Politicians

Do politicians support full repeal of section 59 Crimes Act 1961?  Right now it is a confusing picture - we don't know.  Some politicians express support for repeal but accompany this by statements about not banning smacking.  Other politicians and some public figures support partial reform.  Labour, Greens, Progressive. The Maori Party and two New Zealand First MPs voted for Sue Bradford's bill to go to Select Committee for further consideration.

Citizens

A Herald-Digipoll published in the New Zealand Herald on 2 July 2005 showed that 71% of voters believed that section 59 Crimes Act 1961 was needed; 21% disagreed.

How well do voters understand the implications of repealing section 59?  What do citizens really think about smacking and hitting?  Information published by the Ministry of Social Development (reported in our last newsletter) indicated declining use of physical punishment.  Very recent research conducted by the Plunket Society showed that about 71% of parents surveyed believed that smacking is the least effective form of discipline.  (Media statement from Littlies Lobby, 26 July 2005). So parents, at least, may be moving away from using physical punishment.

What is the legal situation if section 59 is repealed?

Anyone who occasionally uses mild force in a domestic situation could be charged with assault.  If section 59 is repealed, parents could be charged with assault if using any force for the purposes of correction.  However, it is unlikely that people will make complaints about mild assault, and police will have discretion about prosecuting parents.  For matters that do get to court, judges are empowered to discharge without conviction if a person is found guilty.  In EPOCH New Zealand's view no one becomes a criminal without a conviction.  We are all guilty of minor infringements of law from time to time, but we are not criminals.

It may be necessary to develop prosecuting guidelines, to reassure the public that minor assault will not be prosecuted.  If so, it will be important that such guidelines are not taken as explicit permission to smack and hit children.  They should be accompanied by a "don't smack- smacking harms" message.

Your support please

Now, more than ever, your support is needed for repeal of section 59, and for a smack-free New Zealand.

Opportunities for action:

  • Share your views with potential politicians at election meetings.
  • If repeal of section 59 is discussed at the Justice and Electoral Select Committee after the election, provide your communities with accurate information about the implications of full repeal and encourage submissions.
  • Make a submission to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.
  • Lobby Members of Parliament