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It is at once a wonderful and a deeply dispiriting statistic to digest.
The Christchurch Health and Development Study, based on interviews of New Zealand parents conducted at five-year intervals by University of Otago researchers, has found the rate of physical disciplining of children has fallen.
Plunged, in fact. In 2002, 77% of then-25-year-old parents had committed a ‘‘minor’’ assult on a child, such as a smack on bottom, a slap or a pinch. A shocking 12% had carried out a severe assault, and 2.6% a very severe assault.
The most recent study, from 2017, showed 41.7% of parents — now aged 40 — had committed a minor assault. Severe assaults dropped to 3.9%, and very severe assaults to 0.3%.
Well, good news, right?
This study clearly shows the effect of the landmark anti-smacking legislation in 2007.
Green MP Sue Bradford’s Bill, passed by Parliament with only seven MPs voting against it, removed from the Crimes Act the ghastly statutory defence of ‘‘reasonable force’’ to correct a child.
It took two years for that Bill to get passed — New Zealanders were really enthusiastic smackers of their children — and only really got over the line when Prime Minister Helen Clark and National leader John Key cut a deal to introduce an amendment saying police had the discretion not to prosecute minor complaints.
So, there is the glass half-full approach. Many fewer Kiwi kids are getting assaulted by their own parents. This is an objectively excellent achievement in a country that has done so poorly in addressing the issue of child abuse. Happy days.
But let’s not get carried away.
The fact some 42% of parents are still physically assaulting their children, 14 years after the anti-smacking Bill was made law, shows we still have a long way to go.
This study shows we are on the right track, nothing more.
All of the evidence, if not our own moral fibre, tells us hitting children — yes, even ‘‘just a smack’’ — is morally wrong, and is ineffective, and can have long-lasting negative effects.
The study, if we needed reminding, found parents more likely to use physical punishment against their children were more likely to be in a violent relationship. And so the cycle will continue.
The law has been working — parents are not being prosecuted for ‘‘minor’’ complaints, and the rate of physical assaults by parents on children is dropping.
But let’s not resile from our collective national effort to cleanse New Zealand culture of the belief it is OK to hit your children. It is not.
AND ANOTHER THING
We remain uneasy about so much of the palaver that surrounds the Olympic Games this year.
While Japan deals with a spike in Covid-19, while the world focuses on trying to get vaccinated as soon as possible, while sporting stars jump the queue for jabs and places in quarantine, there can never be that much excitement about a 100m record or a sailing gold medal.
Noted are the comments of epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker, who called on Saturday for the authorities to show some backbone.
“We should recognise what is at stake here and I would really like to see New Zealand Government take a firm stance on this,” he said. “The New Zealand Olympic Committee should be saying they are not going to have a bar of it. Someone needs to say the obvious — that it should not happen now.”
There is no doubt every precaution will be taken to keep our contingent of 450 safe. And, like most fans, we will be jumping for joy if a Kiwi athlete wins gold.
But there is something about this that still feels wrong. This may be an Olympiad to forget.