The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Appeal of Repeal

It's my fervent hope that in the next few weeks Sue Bradford's bill to remove parental discipline as a defence under the Crimes Act will pass into law. I haven't written about this earlier because I haven't really had time, but I'm about to rectify that omission, oh yes indeedy.

For me the debate about repealing s59 actually began in 2000, when I was first involved in Staunch Alliance and was made aware that repeal was on Laila Harre's agenda as Minister of Youth Affairs. It was something on the edges of my political perception - I didn't fully understand it and it didn't seem likely to pop up on the public agenda anytime soon. Certainly it didn't apply to my life right then - it was a long time since I had been smacked, and the likelihood of me in the possible role of smacker seemed an equal infinity away.

Now Sue Bradford (my favourite Green MP by a long way) has a Private Member's Bill that looks likely to pass in the next fortnight, removing an archaic defence from our books. I've long found it anathema that many see their children (particularly their daughters) as personal property. It just seems bizarre to me that we purport to care so much for our children, and yet we hit them.

I don't recall being smacked often myself. In fact I can only explicitly remember one time - the last time. I think it was the third time I was ever smacked, I was a pretty tame child.

I remember this occasion quite vividly. I must have been about 7 or 8 and I remember Mum sitting down on the edge of her bed, facing the wall, and pulling me over her knee. It was the old bedspread, the blue paisley one, but it was new then. I recall that she was very very angry, and I can remember thinking that she wasn't really angry with me and that what I had done wrong (lost in the mists of time) wasn't sufficient for a smack. As the hits came I felt a righteous anger that I hadn't deserved it, that, bloody-minded little bugger that I was, it wasn't going to stop me from doing whatever I'd done again. Serve her right I thought, she's punished me and I will punish her. Eye for an eye and all that. Being much littler than her I intended to store my vengeance away, stoke it mightily, and one day wreak my revenge. I can't recall if I ever did or not.

The other thing I remember very strongly was the tears. Not just mine, but Mum's too. She was angry yes, but when she was done she was sad. She apologised to me and hugged me, we were both crying. I still felt unfairly treated, but I recall being grateful that she had recognised the injustice in her action.

Not to malign my mother at all, who has been and remains a really wonderful parent and grandparent, but I always had the sense that she did it at a desperate time, not because she thought it would be the most effective parenting tool but because she needed to lash out. Certainly I could see afterwards that we both felt bad about it; me because I felt it was uncalled for, and she perhaps because she knew that. We've never discussed it, so I don't actually know what her motivation was or how she felt, beyond what I could see for myself and interpret with my child's mind, and what I remember of that now.

Smacking from the parental perspective is not something I've experienced yet, so I have to go on my recollection of being on the receiving end. I acknowledge that experience changes your views on things. Just as in the past I have changed my mind about abortion, there is a possibility I might change my view on smacking, or anything else for that matter. But I can't really write about how I might feel in an unknown future. Certainly my intention now is not to use violence against my own children.*

But I can see the argument about slapping a child's hand away from a hot element, carefully carrying a child to a time-out place, pushing a toddler out of the way of harm. I do not believe that any of these sensible precautions, motivated not by anger but by protection, will be prosecuted after s59 is repealed.

In fact Bradford's Bill (amended and subsequently backed by the majority of the Select Committee who considered it) very specifically allows this kind of action, thusly:

1. Every parent of a child... is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of:
preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence;
or preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour;
or performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.

2. Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.

3. Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1).

The Select Committee report is an interesting read, in particular the summary of the points made by submitters for and against, and the statement that Child, Youth and Family indicated they did not expect their thresholds for removal of children would change if s59 was repealed. The report states in it's conclusion:

We consider that there is widespread misunderstanding about the purpose and
possible results of the bill as introduced. We do not consider that the repeal of section 59 will lead to the prosecution of large numbers of parents ... in New Zealand. (my emphasis)
I've been thinking about how we eradicated corporal punishment** in our schools. It was a similar situation, where many teachers had to dig deep and find new tools to control and discipline their students now that violence was no longer an option. And they did. It is now rare that a child is hit by their teacher, and when it does happen there is outrage from everyone involved, and rightly so. Why should parents magically have a right to strike their child when no one else does, and it is acknowledged that no one else should?

While I don't want to give too much kudos to the Maori Party (given that the Greens and Labour have backed repeal all along and deserve more of the credit) I did like what Pita Sharples said when he announced their four votes in favour (mp3):

We are asking NZ to be brave, to look at the possibility of a culture where we
don't hit our children, and that we can actually find an alternative way of
bringing up our children.
I'm an idealist, there is no denying that, and a piece of legislation like this, one that imagines a hopeful future, is one that I can joyously back with my whole heart.

* Yes, I think smacking is violence. It's hitting isn't it? I haven't got room in this post to go into the particular issue of the way this debate has been hijacked to be about just smacking, when it is actually about violence, of which smacking is a sub-section. I accept that the debate now is about smacking, as much as that was never Bradford's intention, and so that's what I've written about here.
** Which I note often took forms similar to current child discipline methods used by some parents.


Gerrit said...

The problem with this bill is that it has come at the wrong time, been presented by the wrong person, and is being pushed through by a Labour party using the party whip to push through a concience vote.

It is the wrong time because this is seen as yet another piece of social engineering legislation that does absolutely nothing to prevent child abuse. Punishing good people for the sins of the bad. It does nothing to address the Kahui's of this world.

Sue Bradford such a long time defender of public rights through the use of protest action and rallying cries of police oppression, now wants to have the police do even more work (with no extra numbers). People do see the the Hypocrasy. While you may admire her I dont. A lightweight politician that members of the Green party know is not the best face to front the Green party ideals.

The labour party is reverting to a Muldoon like "leader knows best" undemocratic party by not allowing a conscience vote on what is clearly a conscience matter. Strategically this could topple the government if those old Labour parliamentarians being pushed out (Samuals, Hawkins, etc.) actually use their consciences to vote it the way their electorate would want them to. (public opinion runs between 60 to 80% against this bill)

This is on top of the Childrens Commisioner wanting to database all children and have regular "check ups" of how they are bought up and are meeting the ideals of the socialist agenda setters. Check Zen Tigers excellent article on NZ Conservative blog

The question is Span, would you be happy to bring up your child under these socialist regimes? How long will it be before the childrens master plan will extend through to adults with regular "check ups" to see you are leading wholesome socialist lives? Shades of East German Stazi or Soviet KGB? Neighbours ratting on one another to the "authorities" instead of supporting each other?

I think that the voting public has about as much social engineering it can stand and the backlash has started. Not that I have much faith in the National party stemming the tide, as like you, I dont see any policy to counter the social engineeering claptrap that the Greens and Labour have provided in their end game.

Psycho Milt said...

What I can't see is how this amendment actually alters things. It simply changes the defence from "reasonable force" to force which is "reasonable in the circumstances." I'm pretty sure the woman in court for thrashing her kid with a riding crop would say the force used was reasonable in that particular child's circumstances and was certainly carried out with the aim of "preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour." And if I was sitting on the jury, recalling how angry my kids have made me on occasion, I'd take some convincing to convict. Basically it's crap law and Parliament shouldn't be wasting its time on it.

As regards the intent of the bill, as opposed to the crap it's been watered down into by the committee process, like a lot of other parents I don't like to have idealist yoofs like some of the commenters on NRT, teamed up with aging ideologues like Bradford, telling me that I'm a crap parent and had better learn from them a better way of doing it. I'm entirely happy for them to present the arguments, but I don't agree. The ideologues may have the numbers to pass the law, but it's just another law that won't be obeyed. We really do have enough of those on the books already.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

"Preventing" means physically preventing something as it's happening, not attempting to discourage the possibility that it might happen again at some uncertain point in the future.

Span said...

Gerrit, invoking the Stasi or the KGB is rather OTT don't you think? Kiro's plan is so far away from having any political support it's on the other side of the universe as far as I'm aware.

I'm actually yet to see a poll on this issue that isn't tainted in some way or another, but I'm happy to be shown a link otherwise.

Throwing around the term "social engineering" is almost as bad as "political correctness gone mad". Why is it that only the Left(ish) apparently engage in social engineering? What were the benefit cuts of the early 90s if not social engineering? What about work for the dole, Jenny Shipley's code of social responsibility, past attempts to discourage union membership, attacks on access to abortion, establishing fees for tertiary
study etc etc?

If this counts as social engineering then it at least it has as it's aim changing our culture to one that abhors violence, regardless of the age of the victim.

(PM, sorry you are going to have to wait for a reply to your comment, thanks for it though! And thanks to CMT for the clarification, that was what I thought too)

Gerrit said...

Yep, all those National party initiatives where social engineering. The left or the half right both do it. Telling people how to live their lives.

Message is getting clearer from the people. Government get out of our lives!

We will choose to belong to a union or not, to bring our kids up in the best way we can. All we need is for the police to enforce current laws to deal with those parents who assault their children. s59 is not a defence for assault, just that weak judges have ruled it so.

Heine said...

Gerrit, got to agree with you on that. My partner who comes from an ex communist country said this repeal is exactly the kind of restriction the communists would be looking at. It allows the Government to tell you how to discipline your own children.

It is already bad enough thatthey tell us what schools we must go to.

Span, I actually liked the start of this post. I remember being smacked and it did the trick. However this repeal is an unwelcome approach into every family in this country. It will nt stop the bad parents killing or torturing their kids. It's just like the drug laws, making them illegal hasn't stopped people taking drugs... in fact it has led to people going on into harder drugs like P.

Kristjan Wager said...

"Gerrit, got to agree with you on that. My partner who comes from an ex communist country said this repeal is exactly the kind of restriction the communists would be looking at. It allows the Government to tell you how to discipline your own children."

Any sane society tells the parents how they can discipline their children. That's one of the reasons why children are being removed from their homes.

It should be mentioned that Denmark passed a law a few years ago that made it illegal to hit children. At the time, people talked about the negative consequences of such a law, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) those negative consequences have yet to appear.
If you think that Denmark is Communist, you don't know anything about Communism or Denmark (especially not under the current government).

Span said...

Thank you Kristjan - I just don't know where to start with people who think we live in a communist country in NZ. Last I checked we didn't need permission to visit other parts of our own country, our housing requirements weren't universally determined and met by the state, and we didn't have a flourishing black market in basic food supplies. To say NZ is communist is to ignore the horrible reality for those who have lived under totalitarian communist regimes.

PM, I came back to this thread because I realised I had forgotten to respond to your comment, but I think it's kind of superseded by the other threads now?