A headline across the top of two pages of our Dominion-Post today brought stunning news:
It blared: Children hit despite anti-smacking law.
Gee – who would have imagined that?
A variant of that headline can be found on the Stuff website: Physical punishment of children still ‘fairly common’, despite anti-smacking law change – study
The article recalls that .. .
In an effort to improve child health outcomes in New Zealand, the Government introduced anti-smacking legislation in 2007 that prohibited the physical punishment of children.
Has the prohibition succeeded in sparing miscreant children from being strapped, slapped, smacked, whacked or otherwise physically chastised?
Apparently not (and is anyone seriously surprised?)
The Stuff report tells us ….
It’s still “fairly common” for some parents to physically discipline their children, despite the country’s anti-smacking law change, new research has found.
It’s the word “despite” that fascinates us, here at Point of Order.
The reporter has earnestly written that parents are still physically disciplining their children DESPITE this being made illegal.
Are we gobsmacked by the revelation?
By the same token – without commissioning one iota of research – we can confidently tell you that murders are still being committed despite anti-homicides law.
And our houses are still being burgled despite anti-burglary laws.
And motorists still drive too fast despite speed-limiting laws.
And so on.
The simple reality is that laws don’t, won’t and can’t stop crimes – they can only make it a crime to do certain things and prescribe penalties for offenders who are successfully prosecuted.
Hate crime laws now being drafted by the government similarly will not eliminate hate crimes, no matter how these might be defined.
To be fair, the research in the case of child-whacking parents went deeper than the simplistic and daft headlines imply.
New research, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday, examined how the prevalence of child physical punishment changed in the 15-year period between 2002 and 2017 – before and after the legislation came into force.
Researchers found that while there was a “clear downward trend” in reported cases of physical punishment, it remained a fairly common form of discipline since the legislation was introduced.
The 763 parents studied were members of the longitudinal Christchurch Health and Development Study which started in 1977.
The study’s findings showed a decrease in the rates of both minor and more severe physical punishment.
Minor assaults, such as smacking on the hand or bottom, shaking a child, or hitting them on the bottom with an object such as a hairbrush, reduced by almost half – from 77 per cent to 42 per cent.
Severe assaults, such as hitting a child with an object on their body somewhere other than the bottom, slapping their face or head, and hitting with a fist, dropped dramatically, with these behaviours reduced by two thirds – from 12 per cent to 4 per cent.
Those who used any physical punishment on their child reduced from 77 per cent of participants in 2002, to 42 per cent in 2017.
Co-author Dr Geraldine McLeod, a senior research fellow in the department of psychological medicine at Otago University, in Christchurch, apparently expected the legislation would alter parental behaviour rather than necessarily eliminate smacking.
She told Stuff the findings suggested the number of parents using physical punishments and the frequency of such violence had decreased, but it was clear it remained a common form of discipline.
“This is despite the legislation and public health efforts to increase awareness of the potential harms of physical violence towards children,” she said.
“Child physical punishment is now seen by the public as having negative consequences and as such it is not as socially acceptable now as it once was, so it’s disappointing some New Zealand parents still view physical punishment as an acceptable form of discipline.”
The study (if you really need to know) found the most common physical punishments used by parents were smacking on the bottom and slapping on the hand, arm or leg.