Corpun file 12485
The Press, Canterbury, New Zealand, 10 October 2003
Culture of abuse
Press readers have had the chance this week to consider the
conflicting views about the Government's decision to make
smacking less defensible in law. In a series of articles the
paper has presented a debate that engages just about everyone and
about which compromise is difficult. Smacking, plainly, touches
something at the core of Kiwi thinking.
The reasons are easy to deduce. Corporal punishment has been
practised here for as long as humans have reared their young in
these islands and therefore is not about to be legally restricted
without substantial opposition. As well, the physical
admonishment of children arouses conflicting instincts --
repulsion at physical violence and feelings that parents are
entitled to comprehensive control over their young. Smacking, in
other words, is entrenched.
Few on either side of the debate state their position
viscerally -- most justifications or criticisms of corporal
punishment are comparatively sophisticated. But, when the
arguments are stripped back, instinct is seen to be the
foundation and it is this that gives heat to the dispute.
That emotional element has delayed resolution of the debate in
otherwise socially advanced New Zealand. Other nations have taken
the lead. We were late in addressing smacking in the classroom
and only now are fumbling our way to stopping it in the home.
The Government is not intending to ban smacking. Rather, it
wants to abolish the legal defence of reasonable force that has
long been available to parents charged with physically
ill-treating their children. However, the consequences of repeal
are unclear. A plausible assumption is that court rulings will
progressively reduce the law's tolerance of physical
chastisement, reducing the leeway of parents. This is
unacceptable because it prolongs the existence of such punishment
and sows confusion. It would be better were the Government to
have the courage of its convictions and enact an outright ban.
The issue is pressing. Violent crimes are increasing in New
Zealand and violence in many forms saturates our culture. Most
citizens have the moral and mental ability to cope with it. They
are pacific in their behaviour towards other people and not
seduced by the frenzy on their screens. But restraint is far from
universal here -- a fact typified by the appalling and continuing
series of crimes against children.
The causes of our entanglement with violence are complicated
but one thing is clear: the signals we send out about it are
confusing. Most confusing is the attitude towards corporal
punishment. Because of its continued practice, many of our
children are subjected to a potentially dangerous double
standard. They are asked to accept that hits from their parents
are justifiable but that hitting people is wrong.
No doubt most people eventually work through this hypocrisy,
but some do not. Too many New Zealanders vent their anger with
their fists, against spouses, workmates, acquaintances, or
strangers. Too many New Zealanders think that the use of the
shotgun and the baseball bat are not beyond the pale in the
execution of crimes.
The smacking of a child and the murder of a child are far
removed in the moral and physical hierarchy, but not far enough
to guarantee that one will not lead to the other. They are both
in the spectrum of violence.
Unless an absolute taboo against violence is established some
people will continue to be unable to distinguish between the tap
on the backside and the wielding of a baton to the head. That
means corporal punishment should be banned -- must be if New
Zealand is to cut the incidence of violence in all its
Probably that deliverance is in sight. The removal of the
legal defence of reasonable force is a first step because it
removes the most convenient excuse available to parents faced
with prosecution. In effect, parents will know that the law will
be unforgiving if their treatment of offspring results in a
prosecution, and no parent will be sure what will trigger such
legal action. The onus will be on parents to spare the rod.
Smacking will not be banned but it will have no legal
That will probably reduce smacking, if only because it will
make parents consider more carefully how they discipline their
children and keep the issue in debate. This, together with the
planned education campaign, should move us nearer to a complete
and explicit ban.
Utopia would not thereby be created but we would live in a
society where the use of physical force against people was
illegal -- a legal sanction that would engender that powerful
thing, a social taboo.
The Press, Copyright of Fairfax New Zealand
Limited 2003, All rights reserved.
Corpun file 12484
The Press, Canterbury, New Zealand, 11 October 2003
Spare the rod
This week's debate on smacking, and whether the Government
should repeal the legal defence for parents who use physical
force against children, has proved a hot topic for Press readers.
Today we feature a sample of your views.
Bringing up children
Sir--When I was a lovely boy I got smacked at home and caned at
school at times. When I considered it not deserved, I remembered
the times that I should have been punished but was not and got on
with my life. Often my hurt pride was the most painful part of my
body. I did not turn into a frustrated, abused child and when I
had kids of my own and smacked them when everything else had
failed, it hurt me more than it did them.
A peace making cuddle sorted the emotions after the event. My
mother always told me to remember, "one will never beat good
into children, but it's easily beaten out of them". Bringing
up children is love, trial, error, frustration, and love.
Legislation should not unduly interfere with a balanced process
of bringing up children; parenting needs protection too.
H. ADMIRAAL Ohoka
Hitting is violence
Sir--When I started reading it, I thought Bruce Logan's column
was a send-up (October 9). "Smacking" is good,
"violence" is bad. Nonsense. They're the same thing
seen through different coloured glasses. Smacking a child is
hitting somebody small, and no matter how exalted the smacker's
motivation, hitting is violence.
Every case of "serious" physical violence against a
child starts out as a smack. The law won't allow Bruce Logan to
smack me, or to smack his wife; if he worked in a jail, he
wouldn't be allowed to smack rapists or murderers. Why should
small children have less protection?
The sad thing is that parents who hit their children will never
know what they've missed. At best, smacking's invisible but
durable consequence is anxiety, which taints relationships and
inhibits learning. At worst ... well, we've all heard criminals
tell their stories.
ELIZABETH CHRISTENSEN Papanui
Sir--So, my thinking is to be "re-educated" is it?
Well, I have news for Commissars Clarke and Maharey. I shall
continue to think as I damned well please and, incidentally, that
does not include tolerance of violence toward children. As for
the UN; well, they have proved themselves as effective as a wet
bus ticket when it comes to alleviating the world's troubles,
both great and small, so let them either put up or shut up.
It would appear to me that only Brian Donnelly and Muriel Newman
speak with any form of constructive comment. Politicians of the
"politically correct" variety would do well to remember
that, just as they were elected on a wave of mass opinion, they
can be unceremoniously ditched in the same manner.
JOSEPH ADAMS Kaiapoi
Sir--The debate about Section 59 of the Crimes Act concerns more
serious matters than "smacking". Section 59 must be
repealed because it means that some fathers who injure kids with
implements are not convicted.
Although opponents of repeal have been scaremongering about
"ordinary parents being prosecuted for smacking",
similar repeals in other countries (e.g. Austria) have not resulted
in trivial cases going to court.
PETER A. LOW Bryndwr
Sir--Child soldiers of the Sudan, Zimbabwean children starving,
indentured child slaves in India, subjugated children of an
occupied Tibet, millions of children go without even the most
basic necessities of life, yet the UN turns its blinkered sights
on New Zealand and hand in hand with a bleeding heart Government,
replete with contingents of child rearing experts (they used to
be called parents) attempts to forbid New Zealand parents from
use smacking as a discipline.
This Government needs to do more to support the majority of New
Zealand parents who are doing a decent job on raising their
children and get tough with those who won't, and help those who
The UN needs to look to its priorities, rather than indulge in
D. A. THOMSON Richmond
Sir--I think the Government should turn public attention away
from whether to smack our children or not and focus on increasing
public awareness and participation on good parenting, teaching,
and mentoring. Instead of huge headlines with
"Smacking" in them, replace them with even bigger
headlines with "Positive, Effective Parenting" in them.
Spend Government money on parenting education and fostering
healthy relationships rather than waste time on changing a law
that won't change our current culture one bit.
DEBRA METCALFE Christchurch city
Sir--According to Commissioner for Children Cindy Kiro, the UN is
"losing patience" with New Zealand over our slowness in
banning smacking (October 7).
Why is healthy physical discipline being deliberately confused
with child abuse? A violent society is not the result of
smacking. It is the result of poor self discipline, which stems
from a lack of external discipline of the young. This should
include corporal punishment when appropriate.
Fifty years ago, corporal punishment was commonplace in homes and
schools. Violent offending was then significantly lower than it
Responsible corporal punishment, by encouraging discipline and
respect for others, reduces levels of real violence.
We should be restoring corporal punishment in schools, not trying
to ban it in homes. Cindy Kiro! Hold out your hand!
TREVOR LOUDON Northwood
Just say no
Sir--Yes, the Government should change the law and ban smacking.
I am a 73-year-old ex-teacher -- a parent of three children and a
grandmother of three children -- and have always found better
ways of disciplining children. The main one I think is only
saying "no" when really necessary and then carrying it
MARION EGGLESTON Kaiapoi
Whip of love
Sir--An English old saying I learned is "spare the rod,
spoil the child". A similar one in Korea (and some other
Asian countries too, I suppose) is "whip of love".
As depicted in The Press by Bruce Logan (October 9), smacking
should be considered as parental affection towards sons and
daughters, not violence.
I have no objection at all against Beth Wood's advocacy. I only
want to say that smacking can be a way of guiding and
disciplining children that is effective when it be done at the
right time. Timing is a matter of each one's discretion. It seems
a very delicate concept to describe in any written form of
regulations. Instead of thinking of repeal of the law, it would
be better to consider improving the social and home environment.
It is not necessary to repeal the law because it says
"reasonable in the circumstances". If it is not
reasonable, that is violence to be dealt by law.
SUN HWANG Principal, Christchurch Korean School
Sir--Smacking is not abuse -- hitting a child with a piece of
4x2, cigarette butts, or something other than your hand is. My
children have all been smacked at various times in their lives --
yes even in public. Smacking has always been as a last resort. Is
smacking on the hand inappropriate to stop a child from poking at
an electric plug when they won't stop?
A child keeps on running away in a crowd coming out of a rugby
game in the dark. When he struggles and kicks and generally makes
it very difficult to control, what are your options? A warning,
then finally a smack.
I would rather have my child in one piece to love and to hold
than think, oh well, at least I didn't smack him.
No matter what, there are always going to be people who abuse
their position and use excessive force.
STEPHANIE McCULLOUGH Temuka
Sir--Ten million dollars spent to persuade people not to smack
their children? Hmm. Those that beat, and I mean beat, their
children will carry on doing it, and those that give their
children a smack on the hand or bottom when needed will still do
it. My concern is for the busy bodies who presume to tell others
that they shouldn't smack their children -- are they going to run
to the already overworked police and complain?
Whatever happens, please, please, please do not repeat those
dreadful ads with the brat of a child screaming and kicking her
feet and having been sent to her room, plots other things to do.
My reaction to these ads were the opposite to what was intended
-- I thought she needed a swift smack.
MAUREEN WEMPE Carterton
Sir--History proves that loving judicious smacking never produced
the violent society. Our forebears obeyed the Bible, and bred
responsible respectful citizens. The last two generations of
parents tried Dr Spock's anti-smacking theories, and look what
we've got now! The evidence is in, but no-one's taking the
slightest notice. Parents who fail to smack calmly and use
inappropriate instruments should be charged with assault. The law
is there now for children's' protection, it just hasn't been
enforced. It is vital, for society and the children, that they
learn in their character-forming years that lawless actions will
attract unpleasant consequences. Young casual murderers say they
never thought about the consequences to follow, and they had no
respect for another human being. They weren't taught respect for
others, and to avoid painful consequences by self-control, by the
method they best understand and respond to, a somewhat painful
consequence to the bottom.
A. F. JENKS Wakefield
Good versus evil
Sir--The Labour Party is certainly a party of contrasts. Now they
are seeking to make criminals of parents for smacking their
children. And this shortly after making good citizens of
prostitutes. Parents smack their children because they love them.
Children respect their parents who punish their wrongdoing,
because punishment of wrong is good. This is the sharp end of a
concept called justice. Labour refuses to listen to the many who
cry out for justice, instead they condemn good and approve evil.
Helen Clark says that repealing section 59 of the Crimes Act will
remove a defence for abuse. Which of these is a defence for child
abuse: the right to use reasonable force to punish a misbehaving
child, or the right to terminate a pregnancy? Justice is
particularly necessary for our children, but it is in short
supply in New Zealand.
DALE OGILVIE South Brighton
Sir--If the law is changed, children will take advantage of it,
and it will breed children now and in the future when they are
adults who will have no respect for authority.
Mothers and fathers must be allowed to smack their children if
they are unreasonable. You cannot reason with an unreasonable
L. G. TAYLOR Hoon Hay
Sir--I agree with Bruce Logan's comments (October 9). However, I
object to his assumption that violence only occurs in families
where there is a single mother and her partner.
Violence is a part of all sectors of society rich, poor, Asian,
European, and Maori. The myth that violence affects only the
disadvantaged needs to be dispelled and only when this happens
can it be possible to address the serious issues of abuse. Denial
of abuse within society is a child's greatest threat.
EVA HARRIS Riccarton
Sir--I think the Government shouldn't change the law because most
of the parents know to smack their own children within reasonable
force if it's needed. It's the family problem and it shouldn't
concern the lawyer.
LADATIP NETTAYARAK Christchurch
Sir--In your article (October 7) we read New Zealand is
"facing stinging international criticism" and "has
consistently been criticised by the United Nations
committee". So what? Who is running this country? The
Government should be accountable to New Zealand citizens and not
to a pressure group from overseas.
We further read: "Cindy Kiro said New Zealand had not moved
on the issue because an ill-informed public was against a
change." So there is one person who thinks she is informed
and millions of New Zealanders are not. How arrogant! But the
Government begins to agitate about such people and ignores the
views of 70 per cent of its own citizens and even tries to
Hitting a child around the head or with an object has nothing to
do with smacking. Yes, the discussion and education need to
continue, but without any pressure from overseas groups or
MARKUS KAUFMANN Richmond
Sir--Seventy per cent of Kiwis are ignorant? Intellectual
arrogance! Children's commissioners and welfare advocates
unfortunately see the darker side of child abuse and therefore
are tainted to judge. I admit to applying a smack on the bottom
of my four children when the occasion warrants.
Eighty per cent of this occurred before they were five years old.
They know where the line is in our family without yelling or
verbal abuse. No discipline is good when it is applied with
anger. The point of a smack is to bring them to recognising that
their behaviour is wrong and to give them an opportunity to say
sorry. I am looking for a restoring of a relationship in a short
period of time. So are they. Time out really works in an empty
hallway where time stretches, not in their own bedroom. The real
problem is no-one has been taught how to use a smack in a
STEPHEN VISSER Ilam
The Press, Copyright of Fairfax New Zealand
Limited 2003, All rights reserved.