Smacking issue again

The smacking issue has come up again.

Newstalk ZB:  One third of mothers still smack their kids – study

The University of Auckland longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand shows a third of mothers used smacking as a form of discipline and regularly screamed at their kids.

Research Director Dr Susan Morton told Mike Hosking the trend has been going on for a while.

“I think what we’re seeing with studies like this is actually what’s going on in the home. We know that the law has changed but potentially behaviour at home hasn’t, and that’s what’s concerning.”

That the number of parents who smack their kids seems to not have changed suggests that the ‘smacking’ law hasn’t been effective in changing attitudes to smacking.

It also suggests that one of the fears of opponents of the law – scaring people off smacking due to fear of being prosecuted and ‘made a criminal’ hasn’t eventuated either.

Dr Morton said we are seeing in the home potentially what’s happening in the wider society.

“And the problem is that if violence is tolerated in the wider society and then at home, children are learning that physical punishment is okay and that’s something that’s likely to be perpetuated to them throughout their lives.”

That’s a problem with physical punishment if it is a normal way to deal with problems in the home (rather than an occasional last resort minor sort of punishment).

Those who promoted and voted for the law meant well, they wanted to reduce violence in the home, and they wanted children to be protected by the same laws that adults are protected from. But the law ended up being a muddled compromise, with a key part being left up to police discretion on whether to prosecute or not.

Those who opposed the law have probably sent a message to parents who have learned to use physical punishment as a normal means of discipline that it is normal and no problem.

Most parents who have smacked their children mean no real harm, they think that it will benefit their children by teaching them right from wrong. But the problem is that some parents have different ideas on the amount of violence that is appropriate and hurt their children.

And a parent who learns to use physical punishment as normal is at greater risk of doing harm if they lose control under stress and take their violence too far.

Of course it’;s election time and It’s up for debate again, but should it be?

Conservative lobby group Family First has long campaigned for the right of parents to discipline their children using smacking. On Wednesday, spokesperson Bob McCoskrie told The AM Show the law is a “complete ass” and “parents are sick of politicians telling them how to raise their children”.

This election year, he’s not the only one calling for change. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants another referendum on smacking.

But while the likes of Family First and NZ First insist a smack is part of good parenting, child advocate groups like UNICEF say disciplining children without hitting them “is part of creating a society with less violence in the home”. 

Domestic abuse charity Shine says a repeal of the law would be a “terrible step back for our country.”

Client services manager Jill Proudfoot says fewer new generations of parents are smacking their children, but one piece of legislation can’t change a culture of violence and people still need lots of good advice about dealing with challenging behaviour.

It would be good if all the time and effort put into quibbling over a largely ineffective law change was instead put into helping improve parenting skills including promoting effective non-violent discipline them more kids would be better off.

What is a smack?

Smacking is commonly understood to be an open-palmed sharp slap which would leave no mark or injury on a child.

That definition is problematic. An open palmed slap on the bum or on the hand is unlikely to cause any harm – or be very effective as a punishment.

But when does a ‘smack’ become a potentially dangerous hit? Some parents have seen a smack round the ear as fine because it’s just a smack and leaves no visible mark or injury, but brain damage is invisible.

Here are four things you need to know about child discipline law in New Zealand.

1. The law is designed to give child abusers no excuse

The law granted children the same right to protection from assault as adults.

In cases where caregivers were being prosecuted for assault on children, the change in law means the defence of “reasonable force” cannot be used.

The introduction to former Green Party MP Sue Bradford’s Bill explains its purpose was to “stop force, and associated violence being inflicted on children in the context of correction or discipline”.

It says the law in its previous form acted “as a justification, excuse or defence for parents and guardians using force against their children”.

2. Children will not be removed from parents who smack lightly

Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, says it would not act on reports of a light smack to a child, unless a report of smacking is part of wider concerns for the child.

On its website, the agency says it is concerned “with the abuse and neglect of children, not incidents of light smacking,” and an open-palmed light smack is “most unlikely to constitute abuse”.

The Ministry says its working definition of physical abuse hasn’t changed since 2001. It remains:

“An act, or acts that result in inflicted injury to a child or young person.”

A child would not be removed from their family unless they are subject to harm, abuse or ill-treatment.

3. The law does allow smacking under some circumstances, but it can’t be used for ‘correction’

A parent cannot smack a child for the sake of discipline or correction, but a smack may be used in some circumstances, such as protecting a child from harm.

Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 now reads:

“Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the 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
  • preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence
  • preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour
  • performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.”

4. Police are unlikely to prosecute cases of light smacking

Police can choose not to prosecute complaints against parents where the force used is inconsequential or where there is no public interest in prosecuting.

Most parents do not deliberately harm their children, and most parents are not harmed by the ‘smacking’ law.


Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  6th July 2017

    The law as written defies common sense and so as usual is ignored.

    • The problem is that it is very difficult to write a law that can clearly define what is safe and acceptable and what is potentially dangerous.

      • Chuck Bird

         /  6th July 2017

        Have you heard of the Burrows/Boscawan amendment? This stated that no implement may be used, no smacks to the head and no marks or bruising. This addressed the legitimate concerns. However, the law was basically ideologically driven.

  2. Tipene

     /  6th July 2017

    I suspect the survey has under-reported the actual incidents of smacking

    Most of the parents I have known over the years since the S 59 amendment was passed simply ignored it, and then in various forms said “Fuck you bitch – I’m the parent, not you” to Bradford, and simply became more strategic regarding the when and where when it came to discipline.

    For as long as Bradford equates “killing our babies” to a light smack on the hand, arm, or bottom, then whilst she has been legislatively successful, she will never be actually successful in her endeavor, as most parents just don’t and won’t accept Bradford’s attempted “correction” of them.

    True socio-cultural change doesn’t come about by alienating and pissing off the very people you are trying to influence.

    • For as long as Bradford equates “killing our babies” to a light smack on the hand, arm, or bottom”…

      Has she ever done that, or is this an extreme assertion to try and discredit her aims?

      simply became more strategic regarding the when and where when it came to discipline.

      Which hopefully involves less hitting and normalising of violent ‘solutions’ and more effective non-violent forms of discipline.

      A ‘fuck you, I’ll hit my kids regardless’ attitude is concerning.

      • Tipene

         /  6th July 2017

        Pete, watch any interview of Bradford on this subject and she will default to extreme emotive rhetoric on the topic, just as she did when she held up riding crops in Parliament, and illegitimately (but successfully) campaigned the exception as the rule.

        Boy, she gets really, really personal on Winston in this interview – what a loathsome bitter, damaged individual she is.

        • Sue Bradford, the former Green MP behind the law…

          …told The AM Show on Monday she was “horrified” by his recent comments.

          “What he’s advocating is the return of the legalising of assault on our children, which is the last thing our kids need and the last thing the kids of Northland need.”

          The Northland MP and NZ First leader on Friday said: “We are going to repeal the anti-smacking law which doesn’t work, and has in fact seen greater violence towards children.”

          Ms Bradford said: “He’s talking about this on the back of the incident up in Kaikohe recently with the young people rampaging.

          “Those kids probably see far too much violence I’d suggest in their lives already, far too much poverty, unemployment, a lack of opportunities for their families in their part of the country.”

          The 2007 law change removed the defence of “reasonable force” in cases where parents and caregivers were being prosecuted for assault on children.

          “It’s helped massively to change the idea that actually parents and other adults responsible for children are legally entitled to use physical punishment on their kids, that sometimes led to quite serious assaults,” said Ms Bradford.

          Repealing the law would send the wrong message, she believes.

          I think she’s wrong on the effect of the law change but what she says here is nothing like what you said.

  3. Corky

     /  6th July 2017

    ”But when does a ‘smack’ become a potentially dangerous hit?”

    A correlation to the laws around self defence ( in reality you have little right to defend yourself) and the point where self defence becomes excessive force, or assault.

    Here’s where this smacking law is a crock:

    ”A parent cannot smack a child for the sake of discipline or correction, but a smack may be used in some circumstances, such as protecting a child from harm.”

    There’s inherent contradictions in that summation of parental rights to discipline,correct or protect a child. It doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  6th July 2017

      Agreed. That was always a ridiculous denial of common sense.

  4. NOEL

     /  6th July 2017

    If my recollection is correct the object was to enable Police to prosecute those who were hiding behind “I was only disciplining the child” when in fact they were beating the crap out of them.
    Got rid of the cane. Best thing that ever happened.

    • Corky

       /  6th July 2017

      The cane, in schools , went long before this law was passed. It fell to political correctness,not legislation.


      ”By the 1980s pressure was mounting to abolish the use of the strap and cane – once considered essential … Corporal punishment was finally abolished in 1987, and legislated against in 1990 …”


      • Brown

         /  6th July 2017

        The threat of the cane kept most of my school chums from being the little pricks we would have been had that threat not been lurking. I never got caned without just cause and sadistic teachers were not apparent at my schools.

        Branford is disfunction personified. An awful woman.

  5. PDB

     /  6th July 2017

    No light smacking allowed but emotional blackmail, threats, yelling and degradation are all good to go!

    • Gezza

       /  6th July 2017

      Yeah. We had an arrogant youngish latin teacher who did the scathing degradation thing instead of any other form of “encouragement” to behave & learn. Always to the same two kids that had real problems with it. He made them targets for years of physical & psychological abuse by the other kids because he’d effectively told everybody in the class that it was not only permissable to call them lazy fat retards, but actually they deserved it. I hated the prick. Dropped Latin as soon as I could after one year.

      • Brown

         /  6th July 2017

        I had an older man Hatherly for Latin for 2 years (and French for 1) in the late 60’s. He caught me cheating (only did it once) in a French vocab test and I got strapped for that (scored points with the other students though). What was worse was the clear disappointment I saw in him in that a supposed good student had cheated – I think I hurt him more that he hurt me. I bumped into him about 17 years later at a church service and said hello. He didn’t recall me in particular but the first thing he asked me was if he had caned me. A nice bloke and a good teacher.

        • Gezza

           /  6th July 2017

          Yes and we had teachers like that too. But we also had some fuckin psychos. We had one maths teacher who wrote sums up on the board, then the solutions. Then rubbed them off straight away. He never explained why that was the solution. How he got there. Some kids could see it, some kids couldn’t. If you got caught trying to write them down you got strapped. Then you got set 6 different sums for homework, based on those. Your books were collected up the next day.

          Less than four right you got hauled up in front of the class and strapped for getting it wrong. If you had asked a parent for help at home and had got the right answer but they had used a different method or layout, you got marked as wrong because that wasn’t how he showed you you had to do it. And you got strapped. He didn’t just strap. He put his whole body into it. And he was far bigger than any of the pupils he was beating.

          That man deserved to be beaten up & then sacked. But Black Pete was a school icon. You just had to put up with experiencing or witnessing it. And he was a Christian member of a fraternal teaching order, Brown. After that he’d go off to fucking chapel.

  1. Smacking issue again — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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