Children’s views on smacking – Barnardos

Smacking – “It’s wrong, full stop” say children

Media release: Barnardos New Zealand 23 June 2009

…The debate around the Referendum ’09 on physical punishment has been widely debated by adults but who is listening to the voice of those who are at the centre of this debate – the children?

As New Zealand’s largest telephone helpline for children and young people, 0800WHATSUP provided an opportunity for children and young people to express their views about physical punishment and whether or not adults should be able to claim a legal defence if charged with assaulting a child.

“The initial results from the survey show that the majority of callers (more than 55 percent) do not think parents taken to court for hitting a child should be let off if they say they were disciplining the child”, says Murray Edridge, Chief Executive of Barnardos New Zealand.

“Despite this, comments from the children and young people who participated in the survey suggest many children are conditioned to expect and accept physical discipline from parents”

So:

  • If a child thinks parents should be prosecuted for smacking, their opinion is very important and should be listened to. BUT
  • If a child thinks otherwise, they have been “conditioned” to think so and their opinion is not valid.

The full report states that the children were asked “Do you think that adults who are taken to court for hitting a child should be let off if they say they were disciplining the child?”. Note the use of the emotive word “hit” here and throughout the messages read to the children. But even with such a leading question, only 55% of children said “hitting” for discipline was not ok. Probably even less than 50% would have said “smacking” was not ok.

In fact, most children recognise that there is a big difference between hitting and smacking, and that physical punishment may be appropriate in some circumstances. Note what the children actually said to the counsellors as reported by Barnardos themselves:

  • (Counsellor) “He said it’s not really that good [for parents to hit their child] but it depends on what happened, or what the child did”. He said it depends on whether the child does something ‘really, really, really, really, really bad’, for example, ‘if they break a window on purpose’”.
  • (Counsellor) “The interpretation I got from this caller was that she thinks its OK to smack (‘a little tap on the bum’) but that if there are bruises, it is not OK.”
  • (Counsellor) “He said that parents should be allowed to hit their children because there were more students getting suspended from school than 10 years ago.”
  • [Getting a smack] should be ok…if they are disciplining them for playing up, they deserve it…but it shouldn’t be too hard.” “I behave a bit more when I get a smack.”

Of the 19 children quoted by Barnados, 11 think smacking is ok in some circumstances (but “hitting” may not be) and 8 disagree. That’s not what their media release would make you think.

The title of their media release (Smacking – “It’s wrong, full stop” say children) is  a blatant lie.

[Cross-posted at Yes Vote FAIL]

Smacking with a wooden spoon

It is encouraging that John Boscowan (ACT MP) is introducing a private members bill to modify Section 59 of the Crimes Act to allow light smacking again. However we have yet to see the details of his proposed amendment. David Farrar has suggested he base it on the Borrows amendment, as this was originally supported by National so should gain National’s support again.

The Borrows amendment would allow physical discipline unless:

  1. It causes or contributes materially to harm that is more than transitory and trifling; or
  2. Any weapon, tool or other implement is used; or
  3. It is inflicted by any means that is cruel, degrading or terrifying.

Point 1 makes good sense. It ensures you cannot beat your children then get off prosecution by saying it was “discipline”. Point 3 also makes some sense, however it would provide a lot of scope for prosecution lawyers to call virtually anything “degrading” (he was smacked on the bottom, bottoms are private parts, that was degrading etc).

However what about point 2? Now I know as soon as I criticise that point I will immediately be labelled as advocating “beating children” by some people, but as they wouldn’t listen to anything I said on the issue anyway I’m not concerned about that. For the rest of us, what need is there for point 2, when you already have point 1?

If no more than “transitory and trifling” effects are produced, what difference does it make whether a hand or a wooden spoon was used? homerstranglesbart1

In fact, it is quite possible to beat a child to death with your bare hands. You don’t need a weapon to inflict major injuries. Whether an implement is used has absolutely nothing to do with preventing child abuse, and is actually a distraction from the real issue.

It also opens up a new issue – what is an implement? Is a ring an implement if a child is smacked with an open hand but accidentally injured by a ring? What about if the parent happened to be wearing a soft glove? What about a thick leather glove?

Let’s not go there. The issue is whether harm is caused that is more than “transitory and trifling”. Forget about whether an implement is used – that is completely irrelevant and just another point of dispute.

I am not writing this to promote disciplining with a wooden spoon, a strap, or any other implement. That should be unnecessary, in my opinion. But I also know some people will disagree and I am not arrogant enough to force my views on them.

My concern is that the government should not be regulating activities (such as methods of discipline), and instead should be concerned with real crime (whether or not the child is abused).

Let’s keep our laws simple and to the point.

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