Saturday, September 23, 2006

Section 59

I know the Listener has gone down hill since Findlay McDonald left, but they're not even pretending anymore. The headline about the repeal of section 59 was "Will ordinary parents by chargd with assault?" - they illustrated this with a picture of a little girl - just to make it clear that by 'ordinary' they mean 'white-middle class.

But although Listener bashing is fun - I actually want to write about the repeal of section 59. For those who don't know, Section 59 says this:

Every parent of a child and, subject to subsection (3) of this section, every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.*
There is currently a bill before parliament to repeal this section. The Listener pissed me off again by having another headline "A new bill removes the right to hit children.". I find this a particularly annoying, as if the moment we have enshrined right to hit children. Right next to the right to freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.** All Section 59 offers is a defence to a charge of assault, which is a long way from a right.

It makes me upset, upset and angry, that we offer the most vulernable people less protection than everyone else, rather than more. I hate the message it sends to kids - there's nothing you can do, you're not worth protecting.

It's not that I don't have sympathy for parents who hit their kids. I have almost endless sympathy for primary caregivers, and the stress they go through. I know that I have no idea how hard it is to raise a child. I know that many people are doing it with very little support and resources, and most people are doing it dangerously isolated settings. Jody, from Raising WEG, wrote an amazing post about anger and depression, and the links between your childhood and your parenting:
And I am absolutely convinced that when a mother or father is tired, stressed, and confronted with a small baby, their bred-in-the-bone, unthinking first response is to react as their own parents or caregivers reacted to them.
Repealing the law that means that when parents hit their kids it isn't assault won't solve any of those problems. It won't make parenting any easier, or less stressful, it won't give parenting more resources, or fix their broken bits.

So while I do support the repeal of section 59, it's ridiculous to look at that in isolation. Parenting will continue to be a job that is much more stressful than it needs to be when it is done in isolation, without adequate support or resources, and children will always be the ones that suffer when their parents are under stress. The law can't change that.

* For those who didn't understand my post about Section 60 - that talked primarily about 'discipline' not just safety, or even order. Presumably the word has the same meaning in that section that it does in this section - quite frankly as someone who is going to go on a ship this month, that's quite terrifying.

** Which isn't particularly enshrined, as I've been arrested for assembling, and I've known people who have been arrested for what they wrote.


  1. Anonymous10:14 am

    Again, I don't think that "discipline" in S60 could apply to anybody but crew of the ship, except in the confining-to-quarters case I mentioned (which I think there's a reasonable case to make would exist anyway, so this provision would only be for the avoidance of doubt). I don't think this provision's ever been tested in that light, but it seems that would be consistent with other uses of the term "reasonable" in conjunction with assault on adults.

  2. Well anonymous, that's OK then, as long as it's just the crew, we dont need to worry. I have no objection to force being used to discipline employees.

    That was my sarcastic voice

  3. I don’t believe in smacking. BUT

    Is there a section of the law that allows me to kidnap (i.e. restrain) my child?
    is there a section that allows me to do the other parental responsibilities?

    I am also concerned about laws that we don’t plan on enforcing (which creates disregard for the law)
    or making something illegal because we don’t want it to be a plausible defense for doing something else (ie we want to convict someone for the wrong thing).

    Since "reasonable" does actually cover abuse (pretty much by definition) what we are really saying is we want the police to be able to charge for reasonable force in order to prevent unreasonable force. a little like the police being able to imprison you for attending a protest in order to stop you from causing a disturbance.

    But the worst possibility is that it is a 'catch all crime". this would be like if one made "being brown" a crime - and while obviously they could not put all brown people in jail every brown person would become severely disadvantaged in dealings with the police. the same might become true for parents (particularly those in a certain demographic!).

  4. Anonymous3:12 pm

    I didn't say it was a good law, just that your interpretation was incorrect.

    You're not going to be crew, presumably, so quit worrying, and start lobbying for a repeal on genuine grounds, of which there are plenty, instead of inane fearmongering.