Vote No, please

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voteno http://www.voteno.org.nz/index.htm

Between July 31 and August 21, people in New Zealand will participate in a referendum. The question for the referendum is:

“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

This is New Zealand, and so sadly this question is not as rhetorical as it sounds.  Some will actually vote Yes.  Even if a resounding majority vote No, there is no compulsion on the government to change the bill. Despite this, I hope that we will see a strong and sensible message sent to the government from the people of New Zealand.

When we say “Anti-smacking bill” or Sue Bradford’s bill, what are we talking about? We are talking about the amendment made in 2007 to Section 59, a part of the 1961 Crimes Act in New Zealand. Before we read the amendment,  let us see what the old Section 59 stated before Ms. Bradford’s  amendment.

Before the amendment, Section 59 was simple and beautiful and read as follows:

“Every parent or person in place of a parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards a child if that force is reasonable in the circumstances.”

The left-wing Green Party felt that Section 59 went against Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This article stated:

“No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The Green Party felt that all smacking amounted to child abuse and degraded the child. Ms Bradford said that the old Section 59 “legitimised serious force” and “harsh physical discipline”. This is a lie.

The original wording of Section 59 was simple, adequate, clear and effective. It clearly laid down that corrective force used on a child had to be reasonable. By its very description, excessive force was not reasonable and therefore was illegal.

While we disagree with this conclusion, I want to state as emphatically as I can, that as Christians, we abhor child abuse. We are saddened to hear of violence against children who are physically beaten and kicked, not to speak of being subjected to long periods of verbal and emotional abuse. We would like to join hands with other New Zealanders and put an end to such violence against children.

But abuse and good parental correction are two different things. Good parents correct their children. Bad parents abuse their children. In painting both kinds of parents with the same broad brush, good parents have been made criminals. Meanwhile abuse continues unabated.

When we say “Anti-smacking bill” or Sue Bradford’s bill, what are we talking about? We are talking about the amendment made in 2007 to Section 59, a part of the 1961 Crimes Act in New Zealand. Before we read the amendment, let us see what the old Section 59 stated before Ms. Bradford’s amendment.

Before the amendment, Section 59 was simple and beautiful and read as follows:

“Every parent or person in place of a parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards a child if that force is reasonable in the circumstances.”

The left-wing Green Party felt that Section 59 went against Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This article stated:

“No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The Green Party felt that all smacking amounted to child abuse and degraded the child. Ms Bradford said that the old Section 59 “legitimised serious force” and “harsh physical discipline”. This is a lie.

The original wording of Section 59 was simple, adequate, clear and effective. It clearly laid down that corrective force used on a child had to be reasonable. By its very description, excessive force was not reasonable and therefore was illegal.

While we disagree with this conclusion, I want to state as emphatically as I can, that as Christians, we abhor child abuse. We are saddened to hear of violence against children who are physically beaten and kicked, not to speak of being subjected to long periods of verbal and emotional abuse. We would like to join hands with other New Zealanders and put an end to such violence against children.

But abuse and good parental correction are two different things. Good parents correct their children. Bad parents abuse their children. In painting both kinds of parents with the same broad brush, good parents have been made criminals. Meanwhile abuse continues unabated.

The Green party’s Sue Bradford came up with the ammendment, that I will only link to, because it looks as messy as it really is and would instantly render my post confusing.Please click here to read the substituted section 59.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about this would like to vote No, and most of them will. But there are some who favour the bill as being indispensible, though far from ideal,  given the situation we find ourselves in.  Here are the points they offer and my thoughts.

1. This bill could help some families make a culture change and not beat their children to death:

“I see some cultures using excessive smacking as the norm.  I hope that the debate may make them think that there are other ways. But maybe thats wishful thinking. I think its a culture change we need, and I think the law just highlights it, for lack of a better tool. I would vote Yes, until I/they can think of some better way to get the message across  ‘ to use less violence’ on kids.”

2. This bill could help pin child abusers down:

Discussing this subject with another friend, I pointed out that there was a world of difference between a smack as part of loving parental correction and child abuse. I suggested that surely other laws in place against abuse and violence were sufficient to reel in child abusers. But he felt that without a bill worded as obnoxiously as this,  “any above-average lawyer can get around them.”

Contrary to what many people think, the original Section 59 was very effective. Most cases, where Section 59 (original version) was used as a defence, ended with convictions, and even those who were acquitted came under the eye of CYF. So the old Section 59 was working, and working well.

Some people felt that the term “reasonable force” was ambiguous and made it easier for child abusers to use the old Section 59 as a defence. I wish to point out that: Sue Bradford’s amendment continues to use the term “reasonable force” without any clarification

3. This bill does not target good parents

“. . . and, what good parent has been prosecuted by the law?”  Well, the truth is that many normal families have been criminalised and traumatised by the law.  Click here to read about some of them.

Knives can kill; ban them

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15 responses »

  1. My position is that I don’t think smacking should necessary be a criminal offence – that seems OTT – but I also don’t think that it is “good parental discipline”. It’s careless parental discipline and why should I support it?

    I’m not sure why you say “this is New Zealand …”. Are you perhaps referring to the fact that we are already amongst the worst countries in the OECD for beating our kids to death?

    • Thanks for this view point. I am glad that we agree that smacking is not a criminal offence, which is what the current referendum focuses on.
      I said “this is New Zealand” because it is only after coming here that I have been exposed to the possibility that someone might even consider a smack as a criminal offense.

      • Please allow me to include the words in italics to clarify.
        “I said “this is New Zealand” because it is only after coming here that I have been exposed to the possibility that someone might even consider a smack administered by a parent for correction as a criminal offense.”

      • OK, I have read the stories on the site you linked to. Of course, they all take a predictable side even when the parent was convicted(!) so it is impossible to know what the truth is in many cases with no court reports to check against.

        However, most of the stories involve false(?) complaints being made and parents being embarassed by the subsequent investigation. I’m sorry for those parents, but what’s the alternative? Should a neighbour not call the police when she hears a child screaming (Story 13: “Passerby Reports Squealing Child”)? If the child had been Nia Glassie, we’d be self righteously all over the passerby if they had just passed by.

        The law is always a blunt and arbitrary instrument and mistakes are always made. You just have to choose the side you want to err on. If these stories told me anything, it’s that people feel less inhibited now about making a complaint about behaviour that doesn’t seem quite “right” to them and that’s surely a good thing.

        Here’s a different story: You probably don’t remember the Louisa Damodran case in Christchurch some years ago. A motorist saw the 11 year old child screaming in the back of a car until the driver reached back and shoved her down onto the seat. The motorist felt uncomfortable about the incident, but didn’t want to report it because she thought it was just a father disciplining his child and that she would be ignored. She eventually came forward to police when she read that the child had an hour later been murdered by her kidnapper.

        What side do you want to err on?

      • Law or no law, and whether it is a child or an old woman, if you suspect someone is in danger, please do alert authorities.
        Without the amended Section 59, if it were a case of a parent disciplining a child reasonably, your alert would not do any harm to anyone. On the other hand, if it were a crime happening, you would have saved someone.
        With the amended law in place, good parents might get caught as well. Even so, we all know that we cannot take chances and must alert authorities. This is one reason why good parents who believe in parental correction want to go back to the old Section 59.

      • Strange, the way the comments do not sort themselves by time, and now our comments are all confused now. I have also deleted some of the minor comments so as make the flow easier to follow.

  2. But the way the question is worded is difficult for me. Defining something as “good parental discipline” presupposes that I agree that it is good parental discipline. I don’t think it is, so how can I vote No? Frankly the question is so manipulatively phrased that I feel I must vote Yes as a protest. What will they ask us next? Whether we’ve stopped beating our wives?

    • Fair enough. But the question is not saying that smacking is part of good parental correction. It is asking should a smack, when used in the context of good parental correction, be a criminal offence.

  3. “Without the amended Section 59, if it were a case of a parent disciplining a child reasonably, your alert would not do any harm to anyone.”

    Oh but according to your Family First website it would do harm because it would “embarass” innocent parents. Example – shock horror! in story 7 “Police made no apologies yesterday for responding to an emergency call to the Titirangi property from a neighbour who told them: “I can hear a child screaming … and I’ve heard it before.” Nasty old police eh. They should have told that rude neighbour to mind her own business.

    Another thing I noticed is that some of these cases were parents spanking kids as old as 16. Huh? Is it really entirely OK for a father to spank his teenaged daughter on the bottom to the point that he is investigated by the police and pleads to a lesser charge? I find that not a little odd.

    I really think this website you have linked to does your case no favours. You might notice that very few of these poor victimised parents were actually prosecuted. Wouldn’t a “good” parent be grateful that the police take reports of possible abuse seriously?

    • Hi Logophile,
      Thanks for the detailed response, that calls for a detailed reply from my side. I’ve pasted some lines (in bold) from your response with my thoughts under them.

      They should have told that rude neighbour to mind her own business.
      Did the neighbour report the matter because she thought the parent was smacking the child, causing the squealing? Or did the neighbour actually fear harm to the child? Or both?
      (It would be nice if neighbours could call on one another and be more helpful.)
      Having said this, I would like to reiterate that law or not, if someone thinks a child or anyone else for that matter is in danger, one must act.
      If a child seems to be in danger, we have sufficient grounds under the old Section 59 to report the matter.

      I really think this website you have linked to does your case no favours:
      Of the 28 cases on that page, 23 of them demonstrate the problem with the amendment to Section 59.
      The others are not detrimental to my case, but just not helpful.

      Is it really entirely OK for a father to spank his teenaged daughter on the bottom
      I do not think it is OK, and the parent is clearly out of control. But I do not think it is a criminal offense.

      Wouldn’t a “good” parent be grateful that the police take reports of possible abuse seriously?
      The answer to this is Yes and No.
      Good citizens are grateful when police take reports of possible abuse seriously. This amendment is not necessary to strengthen the arm of the police. But, the old Section 59 provided sufficient ground for abusers of children to be reported.
      I do not accept that smacking a child reasonably for correction is abuse. As long as this amendment is in place, correcting children using reasonable force is illegal. Obviously, if I have corrected a young child using reasonable force, I will be very worried if police officers come investigating it.
      Not everyone will worry too much about what the neighbours think, but they would be so worried about their children being taken away from them. This would be even more so if the children were very young or suffered from some disorder, as we see in “One smack for one-hour tantrum – 10 year old calls 111” where the child suffers from ADHD.

      • I disagree. In almost every story a complaint of some sort was made which was quite properly investigated. In the case you quote “One smack ..”, we don’t know what the actual complaint was, so we can hardly claim that it was unreasonable for the police to investigate – and when they did, they made a sensible decision not to proceed. In fact in most of the stories we don’t know what the actual complaint was – and when we do, the complaint certainly sounds like one that I would expect to be investigated. In the “Father charged for smacks …” story, the daughter claimed that she was tied up and beaten! Of course, we have the father’s claim that this didn’t happen although he *was* charged with assault … hmmmm. Do you know what the truth of that situation was?

        To be sure, there are several stories where there was a conviction, but again we don’t know what the court heard. We don’t usually get linked to the court report.

        I think there is a double standard here. CYF are oftened hammered for overlooking child abuse in families they deal with, but here when they show any signs of suspicion the parents they are investigating are outraged. Do they really think that CYF can identify cases of child abuse without also investigating cases that turn out to be innocent? Isn’t vigilance the price of safety?

  4. Obviously, we are unable to see the other’s argument. Perhaps I am not communicating things properly.
    Whatever other VoteNo proponents may say, I agree with you that CYF must investigate when people report their suspicions. I also agree with you that we do not know all the details of these cases.
    In one of my comments above I stated: . . . if someone thinks a child or anyone else for that matter is in danger, one must act.
    In another of my comments in this post I said: Law or no law, and whether it is a child or an old woman, if you suspect someone is in danger, please do alert authorities.
    So I agree with you that it is good to report your suspicions about child abuse (that does not include known parental correction using reasonable force).

    My contention is that if we go back to the old Section 59, parents like me (who believe in correction using reasonable force) would not feel like criminals and we would not fear any investigation. As things stand now, we are criminals already.

  5. Nahomi,

    For your comment stream, perhaps the plug-in “Disqus” would help.

    Your challenge is no different than the conversation that continually raises its head in the US.

    People use guns to kill people, therefore, guns should be outlawed.

    The problem with this line of thinking, and of those who would perhaps criminalize a smack on the rear end, is that their focus is misaligned.

    The problem is with the person, not the instrument.

    Legislation will never prevent the evil nature from presenting itself. If a man wants to kill, he will kill. If a man in bent toward violence, then a law preventing a smack will not prevent his actions.

    Common grace is a good thing. It is right for us to have laws to corral our behaviors, and put consequences to stepping out of line.

    On the other hand, some would go to far, and dream that laws might contain our natures.

    In my mind, this is simple, and I find it simple because I subscribe to a faith in God.

    God has told us in Proverbs that if we spare the rod, we spoil the child.

    Therefore, the smack is not the offense. Society’s question is now:

    1.) How do we protect children from abuse?
    2.) Who is allowed to administer this smack?

    When I was growing up, it was expected that if I misbehaved in school, I could have a spanking administered, in school, by the principal. And then, when I got home, I got another.

    This fear of pain served to keep a lid on my behavior.

    In the US, many parents have refrained from a smack, and started using a “time-out”, and now we have children killing children in our schools.

    I know not whether this is the result of our lessened discipline. All I can say is that my children learned to have a healthy fear of a spanking, which helps us to have a healthy fear of God.

    I am with you, preventing parents from smacking their children is wrong.

  6. Spanking and child abuse are two completely different things. It like saying don’t let people drive cars because there are street racing hooligans.
    The law is firmly in place to recognise and prosecute child abusers. WE DO NOT NEED THIS FORM OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PARENTS.

    Once again we see another subtle attack on the family, originating from the collapsing USA and the New World Order thats now coming to the surface and seeking to control every part of our lives. They destroy our kids immune systems and in cases worse, by forcing Gardasil on us (www.nvic.org). Try to force GM toxic food on us, kill our unborn babies and now are set to make war on our elderly and tax us for the very air we breath.

    God Defend New Zealand.

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