Section 59 protects abusers not children
Media Release: Green Party
How many more children need to be bruised, beaten and suffer broken bones before the Government realises it is time to repeal the archaic section in the Crimes Act that allows it to happen, asks Green Party Children’s Issues Spokesperson, Sue Bradford.
Last week in Timaru yet another parent escaped prosecution for beating their child because it was considered to be reasonable force as allowed under Section 59 of the Act. The woman faced two charges relating to two separate incidents where she whacked her 12-year-old son – once giving him ‘six of the best’ with a cane and another for hitting him with a riding crop. Ms Bradford questioned Associate Justice Minister Rick Barker in the House today about why no action had been taken over repealing this section of the Act.
“Mr Barker seemed to believe there was no problem, and any problem there might or might not be would be solved by the Government’s $11 million SKIP parenting programme,” said Ms Bradford.
“That’s just a cop out. SKIP is not going to stem this problem if it is not backed up by legislative change.
“In the past few years the Government has introduced laws to protect adults and animals from violence – but remain unwilling to repeal section 59 so that the most vulnerable members of our community are kept safe.
“The Timaru case is just the latest in a huge list of examples of why Section 59 does little but protect child abusers from the punishment they deserve,” said Ms Bradford.
Parliament: Questions for Oral Answer
Crimes Act–Repeal of Section 59
6. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Will the Government introduce legislation to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961; if so, when?
Hon RICK BARKER (Acting Minister of Justice): No decision has yet been made by the Government on whether to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act, which provides a defence for parents who use “reasonable force” in disciplining their children. The Government is funding a campaign to provide information to parents on effective alternative ways to discipline their children without the use of physical force. A decision on the future of section 59 will not be made until that campaign has been evaluated.
Sue Bradford: Why is the Government not prepared to repeal section 59 immediately, when results of the court case in Timaru last week so clearly showed that this law still allows parents to assault and beat their children – in this case with a horse crop and a cane?
Hon RICK BARKER: The law does not give parents a right to assault their children; it gives them the right to a defence that “reasonable force” was used. “Reasonable force” can be used as a defence against accusations of assault, and the judgment of what is reasonable is determined by the jury.
Tim Barnett: Why has the Government decided to implement an information programme before considering changing the law?
Hon RICK BARKER: Because changing the law without first addressing attitudes to discipline, and educating parents as to effective alternatives, is likely to be ineffective.
Murray Smith: In light of the fact that the Ministry of Social Development SKIP: Strategies with Kids – Information for Parents report, released just this year, indicates that two-thirds of parents surveyed had used physical discipline but most had done so only as a last resort, does he agree that the most appropriate legislative response at this time is to clarify section 59, so that parents understand what constitutes reasonable force, as proposed by my member’s bill, rather than criminalising the actions of most New Zealand parents by banning smacking; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member will be pleased with the results of a recent New Zealand Herald poll, which showed quite a significant shift in the attitude of parents. In 1993, 25 percent of parents did not use physical discipline, whereas the latest poll showed that 49 percent did not. So there is a significant change in attitude, and that is a good thing. The best alternative will be decided by the Government, once the evaluation has been completed.
Sue Bradford: Is not the Timaru court case a sign that the $11 million SKIP: Strategies with Kids – Information for Parents programme, which the Minister has just talked about, to stop parents using excessive force against children and young people, is actually ineffective without the legislative support that repealing section 59 would provide?
Hon RICK BARKER: No, I do not agree with that, and I repeat the figures for the member. A recent New Zealand Herald poll showed there has been a significant shift in the attitude of parents. In 1993, 25 percent of them said they did not use physical force. In the latest poll, 49 percent said they did not use force. I would have thought that that was a dramatic shift in parental opinion.
Sue Bradford: Is it not true that repealing section 59 would not mean that every parent who lightly smacked a child would suddenly be prosecuted, any more than every adult who touches another is prosecuted right now for assault; and is it not true that the main effect of section 59 is actually to prevent early intervention in cases where parents have begun to brutalise their children?
Hon RICK BARKER: No and no. No one condones any situation where a parent brutalises his or her child. The law will be very effective in those cases.
Sue Bradford: Why is the Government happy to introduce legislation to protect animals and adults, such as animal welfare, criminal justice, domestic violence, and counter-terrorism legislation, while remaining unwilling to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act so that our children might be protected against beating?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member focuses entirely on the law, not on the behaviour. I again draw to the member’s attention that the figures show a dramatic shift in parents’ approach to disciplining their children. The programmes are working. A significant change is under way. I would have thought that that member, like all the rest of the members in this House, would welcome a huge dramatic shift in parental opinion and attitude, as demonstrated by the New Zealand Herald poll.