Parents' rights undermined

Parents’ rights undermined
By Lavinia Ngatoko, Challenge Weekly, New Zealand


 


Lavinia Ngatoko is a reporter for Challenge Weekly, New Zealand

This article was previously published in Challenge Weekly, Vol 63 Issue No 23.
It is published here with the kind consent of the author.

 

 

Opponents of a bill aimed at protecting children against violence are warning that although it stops short of outlawing smacking, the bill will still have severe repercussions on parents’ rights to discipline their children.

Green MP, Sue Bradford’s private members’ (Abolition of Force As a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill, will repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which allows the use of reasonable force to punish children. This section has long been seen as a means for parents to defend themselves from charges of physical abuse against their children.  The Government has decided to support the anti-smacking bill to select committee stage, which will allow the issue to be debated, and for parents and members of the public to have their say.

Ms Bradford’s assurances that her bill will only remove the defence for parents to use "reasonable force" to physically punish children, and would not create a new offence, have done nothing to assuage the concerns of critics, who believe it will only lead to more complications.

Maxim Institute managing director, Greg Fleming says the bill would unjustly change in law the very nature of the parent-child relationship by "undermining parental authority".

"Certainly child abuse is always wrong - but it is already illegal. If juries are having difficulty determining what is 'reasonable force', then we should consider amending Section 59, but don't repeal it."

Mr Fleming points out that Section 59 actually says nothing about smacking or striking a child, but rather respects the rights of parents to impose their will on their child.

ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks says that – "Closer study suggests that Sue Bradford’s incomprehension of the existing law might be a better explanation than deception for her false claim that she would not necessarily criminalise people who smacked children."

Although United Future remains undecided on the bill, the party’s deputy leader and family spokeswoman, Judy Turner, said she thought the bill was - "entirely reasonable". She added that her problem was when it came to banning smacking.

"Not only do you criminalise the actions of ordinary, loving New Zealand parents, but if we are going to define smacking as abuse, let's be consistent about it and let Child, Youth and Family know they should get ready to investigate possibly every family in the country," she adds.

Every Child Counts, a coalition including Plunket, Barnardos, Save the Children, Unicef NZ and AUT's Institute of Public Policy are supporting the bill. The group has announced that the repeal of Section 59 would ensure consistent messages about the unacceptability of violence against children and remove the legal defence in situations of serious assaults against a child. "With international research showing physical punishment increases the risks for children and is not an effective way to discipline them, the case for repealing Section 59 is very strong," says Every Child Counts spokesperson, Dr Emma Davies.

"It is time for New Zealand to acknowledge that children should have the same protection as adults and pets.  It's nonsense for the law to provide a defence in situations of assault against children but not in situations of assault against animals.

"Repealing this outdated law will not criminalise parents but merely ensure clarity in situations where charges are brought against parents who seriously assault a child.  We are not talking about a new criminal code that bans smacking or criminalises parents.  It is a simple move to ensure greater protection for children when serious assault occurs," concludes Dr Davies.

 

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