NZ – Garth George – Find and fix real sources of abuse – Right-On Garth

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Find and fix real sources of abuse

Home » Opinion » Opinion

Fri, 4 Sep 2009


Instead of having a debate on smacking, we should be looking at the actual causes of child abuse, such as poverty, young parents, family breakdowns and lack of support, writes Garth George.

If Prime Minister John Key is to maintain his and his party’s credibility in the eyes of the public, he has no choice but to return Section 59 of the Crimes Act to Parliament and have it amended again.

Only by doing that can he and his National-led Government bring this red-herring anti-smacking controversy to an end.

It has been going on now for more than two years and all it has served to do is to take the emphasis away from the real issue – the dreadful epidemic of child abuse we are suffering in New Zealand.

There is no question that the law change has had no effect whatsoever on child abuse.

This month alone, two little ones have been killed and two put in hospital shockingly injured.

On August 2, a 4-month-old Papakura baby, son of teenaged parents, was admitted to Auckland’s Starship Hospital with “non-accidental brain injuries” and is still in critical condition.

On August 8, Jacqui Peterson-Davis, aged 2, of Kaitaia, died in Starship Hospital after being admitted with bruises on her body and head injuries.

A 17-month-old tot from Kamo, Tinisha Walker, is now in a stable condition after being flown to the Starship Hospital on August 11 suffering serious injuries.

And on August 20, Kash McKinnon, a 3-year-old Palmerston North girl, died in the local hospital from what appeared to be extensive, non-accidental head injuries.

Three more little ones have died this year, in February, March and June.

And while this gruesome, degrading and humiliating state of affairs continues, the nation has been embroiled in pointless bickering over whether parents can smack their kids as a form of correction, which they’ve been doing since the Creation.

It has to stop. And the only way to stop it is to change the stupid law. That’s not difficult. All that has to be done is to delete subsections 2 and 3 from Section 59.

Subsection 2 makes it illegal for parents to use force “for the purposes of correction”; and subsection 3 gives subsection 2 priority over subsection 1, which defines the things children can be physically disciplined for – all of which, ironically, are corrective.

And then, perhaps, those who have involved themselves on both sides of the so-called anti-smacking campaign can begin to direct their not-inconsiderable resources and talents into trying to find answers to the real causes of child abuse, of which smacking isn’t one.

Among other things, that would give those organisations and agencies which have thoroughly discredited themselves in the anti-smacking fiasco – Barnardos, Plunket, the Children’s Commission and the Families Commission in particular – a chance to redeem themselves.

The causes of child abuse were most recently outlined in a Children’s Commission report released this year entitled “Death and serious injury from assault of children aged under 5 years in Aotearoa New Zealand: A review of international literature and recent findings”.

It lists the main causes of child abuse as: drug and alcohol abuse; family breakdown; unsupported young mothers with little or no antenatal care; presence of a non-biological parent; mental illness; poverty, instability and unemployment; ethnicity (including the high rate of abuse among Maori).

Predictably, all the report’s recommendations on how to deal with these vexed and seemingly insoluble problems concern things that might be done by bureaucrats, health professionals, researchers, reviewers, committees and so on ad nauseam.

They talk about “optimal methods for national surveillance”, ” field-based interventions and prevention activities”, “systematic reviews on what is known by clinicians and policymakers”, “conceptual models that address mechanisms and processes”, “studies of previously developed child maltreatment interventions” and so on and on.

All of which reminds me of a statement made by the late Dr Benjamin Spock in his essay How Not to Bring Up a Bratty Child:”In the 20th century, parents have been persuaded that the only people who know for sure how children should be managed are the child psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, social workers and paediatricians – like myself.

This is a cruel deprivation that we professionals have imposed on mothers and fathers . … .

We didn’t realise, until it was too late, how our know-it-all attitude was undermining the self-assurance of parents.”

Child abuse is a national disgrace which affects almost everyone.

All the answers do not lie with professionals and “experts”; each and every one of us has some part to play in addressing these awful issues.

That has to include all the individuals and organisations which devoted so much time and energy to both sides of the smacking question.

And, most of all, it has to include the leaders of each and every one of our diverse ethnic communities.

How it is to be done is beyond me. But I do know that the first thing to do is to get the damned smacking question out of the way.

– Garth George is a retired editor. He lives in Rotorua


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