Prohibition of all corporal punishment in New Zealand (2007)

On 16 May 2007, the New Zealand parliament passed – by an overwhelming majority – new legislation effectively prohibiting corporal punishment of children by parents. Before the new law was introduced, the New Zealand Crimes Act (section 59) recognised the right of parents to use “reasonable force” in disciplining children. The new Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act – in force from June 2007 – removed this defence so that the criminal laws on assault apply equally to adults and to children.

In her speech to the third reading of the Bill in parliament, MP Sue Bradford – who first introduced the law as a private members bill in 2005 – emphasised the importance of recognising that hitting children in the name of discipline is violence and is unacceptable:

... Police, like paediatricians, see the daily consequences of what happens when people assault their kids just to teach them a lesson.

Some people say that smacking or spanking isn’t violence. I say to them – what else is it? If a burly gang member much larger than you smacked you in the pub tonight, what would you call that?

Some people say that the deaths of children [as a result of child abuse] have nothing to do with this Bill – well I say they have everything to do with it.

There is a spectrum of violence used against our babies and children and one person’s light occasional tap is another person’s beating or shaking to death, all in the name of so-called correction.”

The new law allows for the use of reasonable force for purposes of protection from danger or prevention of damage to people or property (section 1) but states clearly that “nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction” (section 2). It also explicitly recognises standard police practice of exercising discretion as to whether or not to prosecute in very minor cases where there is no public interest in proceeding:

(4) To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.”

Sue Bradford called for close monitoring of future case law to ensure that these provisions are not misused as legal defences for hitting children.

She also called for a well planned public information campaign on the new law and alternatives to physical discipline; an increase in funding for community groups supporting children, parents and families; research and monitoring of public attitudinal change towards corporal punishment; and for close work between government and non-governmental organisations. She concluded:

... But in the end this Bill isn’t about us here in Parliament or indeed about adults at all.

It is about our children and what I believe is their God-given right to grow up secure in the love of their family, valued as equal citizens to the rest of us and without the constant threat of legalised violence being used against them.”

 

Further information

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