The clear majority of voters (87.4%) voted “NO” when asked the following question in the 2009 Referendum.
"Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"
In the lead up to the referendum there were intense and broad ranging debates about the amendment to Section 59. As part of the debate the claim was made that light smacking by reasonable parents was harmful for children. This claim and others like it were often made on the basis that they were backed up by scientific evidence. These issues have been investigated and are discussed below.
Myth no 1: Smacking is Harmful for kids
What does the evidence say about smacking?
The best available research evidence on smacking shows that when mild smacking is used infrequently as a back-up for other disciplinary measures, such as time out, it generally leads to better child outcomes than alternatives.1 When smacking is used alone, not in conjunction with other disciplinary tactics, it leads to outcomes that are neither better nor worse than other tactics.2
One of the reasons that some studies do show negative effects linked with smacking is that they include families in their analyses that use smacking in a warm supportive environment along with other families where children are regularly physically abused. Some of the research summarising hundreds of articles have failed to make this distinction, which make their negative conclusions about smacking unreliable.3
The best designed research studies have never found negative outcomes associated with smacking when abused children and highly oppositional children were measured separately in their research. In families with children showing normal behavioural problems, where extreme physical abuse was not occurring, there have been no negative outcomes associated with smacking.4
As with all social science research, the constant problem is separating out the factor being tested from other events in families or individuals lives. It could be that other factors in families’ lives are contributing to negative (or positive)outcomes for children. The way to get around this is to conduct randomised clinical trials. In these trials, children are randomly assigned into the study, which lessens the chances that other factors explain the outcomes for children. The current randomised trials all show that when smacking is administered in a reasonable manner it is an effective way to discipline children without adverse outcomes.5 However, if smacking is used too frequently, without warning, or arbitrarily, then it can become counterproductive, perhaps even harmful. However, the same is also true for other disciplinary methods (time out for example).6
Myth no 2: Smacking is ineffective
When is smacking effective?
Smacking is effective when it is administered in a non-abusive way and used as a back-up for other milder types of discipline (time out for example). So if a child has misbehaved and is sent to the time out seat, yet refuses to go or begins to throw things, light smacking is effective as a backup when used with 2-6 year old children. 7
It has been pointed out that a benefit of using [smacking] as a back-up is that the milder disciplinary tactic becomes more effective by itself, thus rendering [smacking] less necessary subsequently.8 This is one of the reasons why a ban on smacking is potentially harmful; by taking away parents back-up tactic if a child becomes oppositional, the other techniques can also become less effective. Commentators have suggested that this could actually result in more parents physically harming their children. Without the use of an effective disciplinary back-up, children in some families could behave in increasingly disruptive ways. If the parents frustration levels also escalate, it is possible they may revert to unreasonable physical force to 'resolve' the problem.
Myth no 3: Banning smacking will lead to lower rates of abuse
There are several reasons why we should be very sceptical of the claim that banning smacking will necessarily reduce child abuse. Usually this claim is made with reference to Sweden, where a ban on smacking was introduced in 1979. However, it has been pointed that following the law change the rate of reported child abuse actually increased. Criminal assaults and youth crime has also skyrocketed since the law was passed.9
Chris Beckett points out that there has been a lot of misinformation when it comes to the supposed effects of banning smacking in Sweden. He draws attention to a well accepted myth that Sweden has no, or very little, deaths from child maltreatment. For example, the Methodist Mission in New Zealand once claimed that Sweden only recorded four deaths from child maltreatment between the years of 1975 and 1995.10 The truth is that official statistics from 2001 indicated 'less than 10' children per year were killed as a result of child abuse. This is very different from four in twenty years, as claimed by the Mission. In comparison to Britain, where the number was around 100 per year, this initially appears to be a significant difference. Yet when it is considered that at the time Britain’s population was approximately seven times Sweden's, the difference is not that great. For if Sweden's population was seven times what it was in 2001 it is likely the deaths would be around 70 per year. While this is still lower than the UK it is not the same as saying child deaths have dropped to 'almost zero'.
Official statistics from Sweden also indicate that child abuse rates have steadily risen since 1975 (smacking was banned in 1979). The official Swedish website indicates that:
"Reported assaults on children up to six years of age increased by 23 percent to slightly more than 1,900 offences in 2008. The number of reported assault offences against children aged between seven and fourteen (almost 8,550 offences) increased by six percent by comparison with the figure for the previous year. The number of reported assault offences against both children and adults has increased since 1975 and today lies at a level that is nearly four times that of the 1975 figure."11
Statistics Sweden does note that the increase in reported child abuse could be a result of higher rates of reporting.12 Proving this, however, is problematic. As Lindel and Svedin note, it is not possible to tell whether the increased number of reports to police represent increasing rates of abuse, greater tendencies for the public to report, or a combination of both. 13 Even taking into account the strong possibility that reporting of child abuse has increased, we cannot rule out the possibility that rates of abuse are also increasing over time.
Some researchers have also used a narrow definition of child maltreatment to make their case. For example, some studies have excluded child abuse cases that have resulted in children being intentional killed, deaths that resulted from neglect, and deaths that were followed by parents suicide. In that research the only fatal instance of 'child abuse' were deaths that resulted from parents trying to stop disturbing behaviour in their children. Subsequently, in one study, while there were actually 94 deaths from child maltreatment in Sweden during the period considered, only classified five of them as 'fatal child abuse'.14
Joan Durrant, a researcher and advocate of banning smacking, used this narrow definition of fatal child abuse to conclude that "during the ensuing fifteen years (1976 to 1990), no children died in Sweden as a result of abuse…Between 1990 and 1996, four children died from the effects of physical abuse" she concludes that "this rate does not represent a significant increase since 1971". Beckett concludes that the perception that Sweden has a dramatically low rate of child deaths resulting from abuse is largely generated from statistics like these.
The proposition that Sweden’s ban on smacking is the primary driver for its low rate of child abuse is also made problematic by the following:
- A UN report showed the four nations with the least deaths from child maltreatment have not banned corporal punishment.15
- Sweden's low rate of fatal child abuse pre-dates the law banning corporal punishment.
- There is no evidence to suggest a causal link between Sweden’s ban on corporal punishment and low rates of fatal child abuse.
- Some advocates who have cited extremely low rates of abuse and linked this to Sweden’s policy have used erroneous statistics to back this up.
The Swedish experience does therefore not allow any claim to be made that banning smacking will lead to a reduction in child abuse. The established research outcomes above also show that if smacking is administered in a reasonable manner it is not harmful for children. Smacking can also be an effective parenting tool. With these findings in mind, the government should repeal the changes to Section 59 of the Crimes Act that makes smacking a criminal offence in New Zealand.
1 Larzelere, R, and Kuhn, B, "Comparing Child Outcomes of Physical Punishment and Alternative Disciplinary Tactics: A Meta-Analysis",
Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 8, 2005, p. 33; Larzelere, R, 'Child outcomes of non-abusive and customary physical punishment by parents:
An updated literature review', Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 3, p. 213; Roberts, M and Powers, S,
'Adjusting Chair Timeout Enforcement Procedures for Oppositional Children', Behavioural Therapy, 21, 1990, pp. 257–271; Day, D and Roberts, M,
'An Analysis of the Physical Punishment Component of a Parent Training Program', Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 11, 1983, pp. 141–152; Bean,
A. W and Roberts, M. W, 'The Effect of Time-out Release Contingencies on Changes in Child Noncompliance’, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 1981,
9, pp. 95–105; Roberts, M. W, ‘Enforcing Chair Timeouts with Room Timeouts. Behavioural Modification, 1988, 12, pp. 353–370.
2 Larzelere and Kuhn, p. 33; Larzelere, pp. 213-215.
3 Buamrind, D, Cowan, P, and Larselere, R, 'Ordinary Physical Punishment: Is it harmful? Comment on Gershoff (2002)' Psychological Bulletin, 128, 4, 2002. See the following article for an example where this distinction has not been made: Gershoff, E, Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviours and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 128, No. 4, 2002, pp. 539–579.
4 Larzelere, R, p. 213.
5 Roberts and Powers, pp. 257–271; Day and Roberts, pp. 141–152; Bean and Roberts, pp. 95–105; Roberts, pp. 353–370.
7 Robert Larzelere, Child Outcomes of Non-abusive and Customary Physical Punishment by Parents: An Updated Literature Review, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2000, p. 215.
8 Ibid, p. 215. Note: original says 'spanking' instead of 'smacking'.
9 Official Statistics from Sweden (accessed Dec 2, 2009).
10 Methodist Mission, South Island (2004) commentary by David Bromell on 'Amendment of Section 59 of the Crimes Act' cited by Beckett 2005, accessed 23 March 2004. Note, this website is no longer active.
11 Source: accessed Dec 2, 2009.
13 Lindell, C and Svedin, C, 'Physical Child Abuse in Sweden: A Study of Police Reports between 1986 and 1996, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology', 36, 3, p. 151.
14 Beckett, C, 'The Swedish Myth: The Corporal Punishment Ban and Child Death Statistics', The British Journal of Social Work, 35, 2005, p. 131.
15 Beckett, p. 129.
By Colin Craig (Organizer, The March for Democracy)
Lend me your eyes and ears for a moment. Right now set aside any reason why you might think less of yourself. Forget rejection and the lie that you don’t matter. I want to tell you the truth.
The first truth is that you do matter.
There is no one just like you. There is no single person in this world now, nor has there ever been anyone just like you. You belong to this country and we need you. In fact we need you now more than we have ever needed you.
I know this because you are reading these words and that means that you care. Please, please, please never give up caring. Never stop being a responsible citizen, never stop voting, never stop raising your voice and being heard.
The second truth is that your vote matters.
When you vote (as you did in the recent referendum) your vote is not a mere imprint of ink. It is your voice, your considered input into the question of the moment. It is an outcome of what you think , and what you feel, and who you are. It is a concise abbreviation of all you stand for.
I will tell you what you already know. Any politician that first tries to dissuade you from voting and then dismisses the result is both foolish and wrong. Foolish to not seek direction from a responsible and caring citizen such as you are.
Wrong to defy the principle of government by the people, and retain a law that 87.4% of voters don’t want.
The third truth is that voting was not enough.
So now we come to the hard truth. The stage was set, the moment came and New Zealand spoke. A clear voice, a common sense voice. It should have been enough, but it wasn’t because the captain stopped listening to the team.
Make no mistake it is a betrayal from the man who said: \"It's poor law-making to write a very strict law and then trust the police and the courts not to enforce it strongly. The law shouldn’t depend on which police officer or which judge or which jury you happen to get on the day.\" The man who called the law a \"dogs breakfast\" and assured us it was \"not national party policy\". Power corrupts.
And so now you need to decide whether that betrayal will go unanswered. To decide whether you matter enough to do something more; to decide whether your place in this country, and your right to be listened to, are enough to get you to your feet to stand with other New Zealanders.
You will not stand alone because I and many others will stand with you. This November 21st at 1:30pm we are making that stand at the bottom of Queen St.
I call you to join us, to bring others with you, and to say that you will make a difference. Now is the hour that your country needs you to vote with your feet.
By Sheryl Savill (Referendum Proposer)
"Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"
- Why the Referendum came about?
The referendum was initiated in response to the bill repealing the defence of Section 59 for parents to use reasonable force for correction and discipline. The aim of the referendum was to protect good parents and tackle the real causes of child abuse, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, stress, and family breakdown. Despite overwhelming opposition to the anti-smacking bill, the politicians ignored the will of the people and passed the bill. As a result, more than 300,000 signatures were gathered on a petition demanding a Referendum on the law change, and under the law this forced a Referendum to be held. It logically should have happened at the General Election in 2008 but the government was desperate to avoid reminding voters of this deeply unpopular law change.
- What was the result?
An overwhelming response to the postal referendum saw 1,470,755 people voting NO. Giving an 87.4% majority response. Sending a clear message to the politicians that they did not want good parents criminalised for using reasonable force such as a light smack.
- What was the response of the politicians?
Sadly, the politicians have chosen to ignore the results and instead launched an inquiry.
- Why democracy failed?
When a government ignores the result of a referendum with an 87% majority then we no longer live in a democracy.
A handful of politicians are now making and keeping laws which their constituents do not agree with. What happened to \"voted by the people for the people\"? How can the voice of the people of this country be heard? Who will listen? We must march and let the government see that we (the people who voted them in to power) will continue to fight for freedom and the right to raise our children in a safe and loving environment.
By Margaret Robertson (Referendum Proposer)
PETITIONTO REDUCE THE NUMBER OF MPs
I was motivated to start this petition to reduce the number of MPs after listening to Parliament. The inane comments and general behaviour were disgraceful. Despite the fact that at that time no individual had succeeded with a Citizens Initiated Referendum I was not deterred. From the time of the press conference to announce the details of the petition I was inundated with offers of help to collect signatures. People from all walks of life and different ethnicities gave their support and help.
Radio hosts newspapers and magazines were all very supportive.
Interestingly some MPs, like a majority of New Zealanders, were fed up with the antics of some politicians which included their self-serving attitudes and lack of commitment to serious debate and work on issues needed for the betterment of New Zealand.
Sitting at a table collecting signatures in many cities and towns throughout New Zealand was made bearable by the goodwill shown towards the petition and the many amusing comments aimed at our politicians. With our small population 99MPs is still a generous number and I was very pleased to see a vast majority of New Zealanders (81.5%) support the proposition.
It is now nearly 10 years later during which time no reduction of MP’s has occurred. In fact Parliament now boasts 122 MP’s the highest number ever in our history. It is high time the government respected the wishes of the people and starting acting the way we want them to.
92% of voters supported the following referendum in 1999
"Should there be a reform of our justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences? "
The Politicians ignored it – in fact they said we [the public] didn’t understand the question!
Over 1000 people have since been murdered!
The 1999 referendum was instigated by Norm Withers after his elderly Mother was brutally attacked in Christchurch; the offender had 56 previous offences but was released early on parole which gave him the opportunity to attack Mrs. Withers. Of course he has long since been paroled for that offence, and true to form for most violent criminals has gone on to reoffend again.
The Government ignored the result of the 1999 referendum and to add insult to injury in a display of utter contempt for voters reduced Parole eligibility from 2/3rd of sentence to 1/3rd.
While trying to con the public into believing they were taking a hard-line on crime in reality the opposite was true, the 2002 Sentencing Act instructed Judge to give 'the least restrictive' sentence and in 2007 changed the bail Act to make it easier for violent offenders to get Bail!
National promised to get tough on crime in the 2008 Election and YES, progress has been made. BUT National has diluted David Garrets original three-strike Bill to remove repeat offenders to the point of worthless drivel.
Every opinion poll has overwhelmingly indicated that the public do NOT want violent criminals on the street – yet National seems once again to be ignoring public opinion.
It is now obvious the public understood the question the Law & Order referendum asked.
Now we understand the problem!
Politicians utter contempt for the voters who elected them!
Sensible Sentencing Trust