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Many New Zealand parents continue physical disciplining of their children, a new study has found.
Data collected as part of the Christchurch Health and Development Study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today, is believed to be the first study to consider how rates of physical punishment of children and attitudes towards smacking might have changed since the law was reformed.
Parents were interviewed at age 25, 30, 35, and most recently in 2017 at age 40 by University of Otago Christchurch researchers.
Back in 2002, 77% of then 25-year-old parents had committed a minor assault on a child, such as a smack on the bottom, a slap or a pinch.
About 12% had carried out a severe assault and 2.6% a very severe assault.
The most recent survey found that in 2017, 41.7% of parents had committed a minor assault, well down from the 2002 figure but just 4.5% down from when the same question was asked in 2012.
Severe assaults were down to 3.9% and very severe assaults to 0.3%.
By far the strongest predictor of violence was the number of 2- to 10-year-olds in the household, and in particular the number of 2- to 4-year-olds, the study found.
"Overall the findings suggest that while both the number of parents using physical punishment and the frequency of physical violence have decreased, a large number of New Zealand parents are continuing to use physical violence when disciplining their children," the study’s authors said.
"This is despite public health efforts to increase awareness of the potential harms of physical violence towards children."
The authors warned that their method of studying a cohort of people over time meant they could not gauge what the attitude of new parents in 2021 might be to physical punishment.
However, the research did suggest rates of smacking or hitting children were high enough to be a public health concern.
"There remains a need for continued public education on reducing physical violence, for providing alternative strategies to manage child behaviour and for ongoing monitoring of parental use of physical punishment against changing societal tolerance of violence towards children."