This issue provoked people in the lead up to the removal of section 59 from the crimes act enabling child discipline to be used as a defence by individuals accused of assaulting a child. But it seems to be very much a non-issue now. At least as far a parliament and legislation is concerned (see Don’t encourage them!).
There has always been strong debate over techniques for raising children. No doubt there always will be. I can certainly remember how emotionally charge this issue was amongst parents when my children were young. Quite correctly, the state doesn’t get involved in this issue – unless things get out of hand. And then, surely we should insist that the state intervenes to protect defenceless children when they do.
Confusing two issues
So, I see the debate around normal child rearing methods as being quite independent of parliament, legislation and referenda. This referendum has only arisen because the two issues have been confused. Many parent were concerned that the law change might make their parenting practices illegal. Experience shows that this fear was unfounded. No one is being prosecuted for normal parenting. The law had almost unanimous support in parliament. And there is an undertaking to review the actual practice of the law to detect any inappropriate use.
But why are some people still trying to campaign against the law – long after its public acceptance? The petition calling for the referendum took advantage of the previous public concern but that has now disappeared and most people now see the referendum as not necessary, posing a confusing question and pointless because no government action will result.
Christian fundamentalist campaign
I think it’s pretty obvious that the groups now campaigning against the law are almost all religiously motivated. The campaign is largely being driven by conservative and fundamentalist Christians. Initially they may have seen it as a way of influencing the last general election. As Nicky Hagar (author of the highly recommended book on NZ politics The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception) pointed out last year, conservative US Christian groups often use this tactic to get their issues onto ballots in the hope that the public attention will influence more major electoral decisions.
These groups failed to get the referendum on to the NZ ballot papers last year and were bitterly disappointed as a result. Now they are left with a pointless referendum where their campaigning reveals their relgious stance, rather than mobilising concerned parents.
Have a listen to Hagar’s talk – The influence of fundamentalist religious groups on New Zealand Politics (Nicky Hager.mp3). It was presented to the secular Heritage Conference in Wellington last year (see Our secular heritage presentations). I think it is very relevant to the referendum issue in New Zealand.
Also, because the issue is now about religion and “child discipline,” this Guardian video (Flogging of girl by Taliban) is very relevant. It shows how the Taliban in Pakistan discipline their children. In this case the victim is a girl who looked at a married man.