The recent news and discussions on the behaviour of teenagers in relation to sex reminded BJ Marsh of a moral panic in 1954 that resulted in ‘the Mazengarb Report’ on ‘Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents’ that was posted to every household in the country.
NZ History: Mazengarb report released:
The Mazengarb inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’ blamed the perceived promiscuity of the nation’s youth on working mothers, easy availability of contraceptives, and young women enticing men into having sex.
In July 1954 the government appointed lawyer Dr Oswald Mazengarb to chair a Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents. They established the committee after a teenage sex scandal in Lower Hutt and other high-profile incidents such as a milk-bar murder in Auckland and the Parker–Hulme killing (see 22 June).
The report, sent to every New Zealand home, blamed lack of parental supervision for juvenile delinquency and advocated a return to Christianity and traditional values. Excessive wages for teenagers, a decline in family life, and the influence of film, comics, and American literature all apparently contributed to the problem. The report provided a basis for new legislation that introduced stricter censorship and restrictions on contraceptive advice to young people.
Despite the public outrage it caused, the Mazengarb report and other government papers and inquiries that followed in the 1960s and 1980s had no observable impact on young people’s behaviour.
This is before my time and I haven’t heard of it before. It is a fascinating window into New Zealand society a bit over sixty years ago.
‘Preliminary Observations’ from the report:
1) Sensational Press Reports
In the second week of July 1954 various newspapers throughout the Dominion featured reports of proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court at Lower Hutt against youths charged with indecent assault upon, or carnal knowledge of, girls under 16 years of age.
The prosecuting officer was reported as saying that:
The police investigations revealed a shocking degree of immoral conduct which spread into sexual orgies perpetrated in several private homes during the absence of parents, and in several second rate Hutt Valley theatres, where familiarity between youths and girls was rife and commonplace.
He also stated that:
… in many cases the children came from excellent homes.
A few weeks previously reports had appeared in the press of statements made by a Child Welfare Officer and a Stipendiary Magistrate that juvenile delinquency (meaning delinquency in general and not only sexual delinquency) had more than doubled in recent years, and that in many cases the offenders came from:
… materially good homes where they are well provided for.
Such statements naturally provoked a good deal of private and public comment throughout the Dominion. The anxiety of parents deepened, and one leading newspaper asserted editorially that:
It is probably quite safe to assert that nothing that has occurred in the Dominion for a long time has caused so much public dismay and so much private worry as the disclosure of moral delinquency among children and adolescents.
There is room for difference of opinion as to whether or not the ensuing public discussion of sexual offending was desirable. On the one hand it provoked many conversations on the subject between children themselves and a noticeable desire to purchase newspapers on the way to and from school. On the other hand the focusing of attention on the existence of the peril to school children caused many parents, temporarily at any rate, to take a greater interest in the training and care of their children than they might otherwise have taken; it caused some heads of schools to arrange for sex instruction; and it also resulted in a public demand that something should be done to bring about a better state of morality in the community.
Following hard upon the newspaper reports of these cases in the Hutt Valley there was the news that two girls, each aged about 16 years had been arrested in Christchurch on a charge of murdering the mother of one of them. It soon became widely known (and this fact was established at their subsequent trial) that these girls were abnormally homosexual in behaviour.
XVII. Summary of Conclusions
1. Sexual immorality among juveniles has become a world-wide problem of increasing importance, but the great majority of the young people of this Dominion are healthy-minded and well-behaved.
2. As sexual immorality is generally clandestine, is often not criminal, and even when criminal may not be detected, there are not any statistics from which it can be shown whether, or to what extent, it has increased.
3. During recent years the pattern of sexual misbehaviour has changed: it has spread to younger groups; girls have become more precocious; immorality has been organized; the mental attitude of some boys and girls towards misconduct has altered; and there is evidence that homosexuality may be increasing.
4. The new pattern of juvenile immorality is uncertain in origin, insidious in growth, and has developed over a wide field.
5. Objectionable publications ought to be banned by establishing a system for the registration of distributors of certain printed matter. Urgent action is necessary so that publications now banned in other countries will not be dumped into this Dominion.
6. The absence of regulations necessary to make the Film Censor’s recommendations effective deprives parents of the protection which the Legislature intended for them.
7. The possibility that children may hear radio programmes unsuitable for them calls for firmness and discretion on the part of parents and more care by the Broadcasting Service in arranging and timing programmes. Serials and recordings giving undue emphasis to crime or sex are not desirable, nor is the frequent repetition of recordings that are capable of misinterpretation, particularly in times like the present.
8. Advertisers should realize that the increasing emphasis on sex attraction is objectionable to some and, possibly, harmful to others.
9. Although television may not be introduced into New Zealand for some time, plans to cope with its effects on children should be made well in advance of its introduction.
10. There should be a closer bond between school and home. The system of visiting teachers should be expanded and as much liaison as possible established between them and public health nurses.
11. The evidence that the propinquity of boys and girls at co-educational schools contributed to sexual delinquency was not convincing.
12. The value of insisting upon all children remaining at school till they are 15 years of age should be further investigated. When the underlying cause for an application for exemption is misconduct, the exemption should only be granted subject to supervision by a Child Welfare Officer.
13. Whenever a pupil under the care or supervision of the Child Welfare Division is enrolled at a school the principal should be informed of any matters pertaining to the pupil which are within the knowledge of that Division. He should also be consulted as to any recommendation which it is proposed to make to the Court in respect of any of his pupils.
14. The school is not the proper place for fully instructing children about sex, although it may be a convenient place in which mothers and daughters together, fathers and sons together, or parents together, may listen to addresses or see appropriate films. This would help to break down some of the barriers of self-consciousness.
15. In the new housing settlements the younger age groups predominate. They are without the stabilizing influence of older people and established institutions.
16. The work of all organizations which aim at building character is warmly commended as they help to prevent children from becoming delinquent; but facilities for recreation and entertainment will not cure juvenile delinquency.
17. Liquor and gambling are symptomatic of some homes where there is child neglect. The Committee deprecates the growing practice of parents conniving at the consumption of liquor at young people’s parties.
18. Tension in the household, separation of the parents, lack of training for parenthood, the absence of a parental sense of responsibility or poor discipline all help to create an unsatisfactory home environment; the child of such a home often feels unwanted or unloved. This unsatisfactory environment or feeling of being unloved is productive of much delinquency.
19. Nearly one-third of the delinquent children whose cases were considered came from homes where the mothers, possibly out of necessity, went out to work. Fathers themselves are also to blame when they neglect the opportunities available in the evenings or at the weekends to interest themselves in the welfare of their children.
20. The high wages paid to adolescents on leaving school are an important contributing factor especially when those youths have not been trained in the virtues of thrift and self-reliance.
21. In many of the cases investigated by the police the children have either been ignorant of the functions of sex or have too advanced a knowledge of its physical aspects. When, how, and by whom the information should be given is very important.
22. The present state of morals in the community has indicated the value of a religious faith, and of family religion. Encouragement should be given to the work of the New Zealand Council of Christian Education.
23. There has been a decline in certain aspects of family life because of a failure to appreciate the worth of religious and moral sanctions.
24. During the past forty years new concepts have entered into society. These concepts resulted from the unsettlement following two world wars. The changes were the increased use of contraceptives, the broadening of the divorce laws, an increase in pre-marital sexual relations, and the spread of new psychological ideas.
25. The Committee is unanimously of the opinion that adolescents should not buy or be in possession of contraceptives. There is, however, some difference of opinion as to how this decision could be made effective.
26. The state of the law regarding indecent conduct on the part of boys and girls operates very unfairly. Boys who admit this offence are charged in the Children’s Court under sections of the Crimes Act for breach of which they are liable to terms of imprisonment of five to seven years. Their names and particulars of the offence are recorded in the Police Gazette. The girls (some of whom may have incited the boys to offend) cannot be charged; if they are brought before the Court at all, it is only when their parents are summoned for having delinquent children and their names are not gazetted.
27. The Child Welfare Act should be broadened to provide for the doing of preventive work. At present it provides only for the correction of children who have committed offences or who are delinquents. There are also grave weaknesses in this statute and in the whole procedure for dealing with offending and delinquent children.
(1) Proposals for Legislation
(a) The definition of “obscene” and “indecent” in the statute law relating to printed and published matter should be enlarged so as to cover all productions which are harmful in that they place undue emphasis on sex, crime, or horror.
(b) All distributors of books, magazines, and periodical (other than newspapers and educational or scientific publications) should be required to register their names and the names of their various publications. If they offend against the proposed law regarding objectionable publications, their licences to produce or distribute should be cancelled.
(c) A new offence should be created whereunder boys and girls who are guilty of indecent conduct with one another should both be liable to be charged as delinquents in the Children’s Court and the practice of recording the names of boys in the Police Gazette as having been summarily dealt with should cease.
(d) In all cases where children are summoned to Court their parents (if available) should be required to attend with them.
(e) The Court should have the power to require the parent or guardian of an offending or delinquent child to pay the fine or costs and to give security for the future good behaviour of the child unless the Court is satisfied that the conduct of the parent or guardian has not conduced to the child’s wrong doing.
(f) The Court should also be given power to direct that the children’s benefit or family benefit payable to any parent or guardian by the Social Security Commission be suspended until he gives the security required by the Court or for such further or other period as the Court may order. The material interests of the child should be preserved by enabling the Court to suspend the operation of the order, or to cancel it upon being satisfied that the parent or guardian has given the required security to exercise due care and control.
(g) Effect should be given to the recommendations regarding enrolment or expulsion of children as set out in Section XVI (5) (d) and (e) of this report.
(h) The Child Welfare Act should be completely recast in such a way as to remove the weaknesses indicated in this report and to suit modern needs. “Child welfare” should be given an autonomous status under the Minister of Social Welfare.
(2) Proposals for Administrative Action
The following outlines of administrative action are not dependent upon the amending of any Acts of Parliament such as were recommended above:
(a) Police Department
The training and duties of policewomen should be considered with a view to deciding the best method of dealing with girls involved in sexual offences.
(b) Department of Internal Affairs (Films)
To facilitate the practical working of film censorship steps should be taken to gazette the outstanding regulations empowered under the relevant Acts of 1934 and 1953.
(c) Broadcasting Service
It is suggested:
(i) That the service ensure that the concept “Crime must never pay” is more prominently featured in crime serials.
(ii) That a married woman be immediately appointed to the auditioning panel.
(d) Censoring Authorities
Any Departments concerned with censorship should maintain a liaison to produce as far as possible a uniform interpretation of public opinion and taste.
(e) Department of Education
(i) The Department of Education should discuss with the Department of Health the respective duties of public health nurses and visiting teachers to prevent overlapping and to ensure the best possible employment of these officers.
(ii) Following upon the conference outlined in the previous paragraph the appointment of additional visiting teachers should be accorded priority.
(iii) The Department should consider what type of officer is best suited to help with problem pupils in post-primary schools.
(iv) The Department should request that residences be set aside for some teachers in housing settlements.
(v) In areas where there is a lack of facilities for recreation and entertainment the Department should consider the possibility of making school grounds and buildings available to responsible organizations.
(f) Research into Juvenile Delinquency
A long-term project for the investigation of juvenile delinquency in all aspects should be undertaken.
(3) Parental Example
New laws, new regulations, and the prospect of stricter administration may help to allay the well-founded fears of many parents for the future of their children. It would, however, be a pity if parents were thereby led into any relaxation of their own efforts. Wise parenthood implies firm control and continual interest in the doings of sons and daughters. But what is most needed is that all people should, by right living and by the regularity of their own conduct, afford the best example for the conduct of the rising generation.