A young mother plays with her three youngest kids in the bath. She teaches them one of her favorite songs, an old WWI classic “Till We Meet Again”. The bathroom fills with the smell of soap and the sound of giggles.
She picks up her youngest, the little girl, and wraps her lovingly in a towel. Then she carries her from the bathroom into the hall when … suddenly
The Mother …on her knees, dazed … confused from the blow to her head, and then … when she sees who’s standing over her, … she screams.
The little girl… on the floor, dropped, screaming …terrified. The two little boys in the bath … crying, calling to their mum, terrified.
The father. Drunk. Enraged. Glaring as he stands over the mother…until something cuts through the red mist in his head and he runs from the house …ashamed and afraid.
This was the incident that broke the camel’s back for my grandmother. Finally the police were involved and my grandfather moved out for good.
It wasn’t the first time he’d hit my grandmother and it wasn’t the first time he’d hit his kids either. My Dad was the oldest boy in the bath that night in the 1930s and he told me of one time when he only got away from his dad’s beating by hiding in the gutter under the driveway ramp.
My Dad was deeply affected by seeing his mother repeatedly beaten and he passed on one very clear message to his 6 boys …”Never hit a woman”. He lived by it too and never laid a finger on my Mum during their 60 years of marriage.
But …unfortunately for me…he didn’t make the same rule about hitting his kids.
Chair, Fellow Toastmasters and Guests …adults hitting children happens when your family, your friends, your society as a whole say it’s ok.
In 2007 New Zealand amended Section 59 of the Crimes Act to say once and for all that it’s not ok. It was passed overwhelmingly on a conscience vote with 113 of our 120 MPs voting it in. Next month you have your chance to say again that it’s not ok to hit children by voting YES in the Referendum.
The referendum question is:
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
Those who want you to Vote NO say that good parents will be criminalized by the new law for giving their child even a light smack. They also claim that the Nanny State is intruding too much into parent’s lives.
Those who say YES argue that the law is working well, it protects children from assault, it is a vote for positive parenting and that it is supported by Barnardos, Plunket, Save the Children, Unicef and many other respected child-focused organisations.
In case you haven’t yet worked out where I stand my answer is an emphatic … VOTE YES.
I was actually dead against the law change when I first heard about it. For 2 reasons … both of which were incredibly stupid. First I hated Sue Bradford … and second … incredibly, given the fact that I was repeatedly assaulted by my own father … I thought it was OK to hit children to correct them, even though I didn’t do it to my kids.
My view changed the day I heard one question. A question I could not answer.
If it’s wrong to hit an adult, how can it be right to hit a child?
I simply could not, and still cannot to this day explain why it was ok for the biggest, heaviest strongest people in NZ to physically assault the smallest, weakest, most vulnerable people in New Zealand. People who aren’t even mentally fully developed yet.
Now … the NO vote camp are incredibly cunning and dishonest. Backed by hard-line religious fundamentalists they have skillfully twisted the whole debate. Their first master-stroke was to coin the term “anti-smacking bill” when the law change was nothing of the kind.
The second was to get this incredibly deceptive wording of the referendum past the Government official who should hang his head in eternal shame. Under their hype however lie the irrefutable facts that destroy their flimsy arguments.
1. The law has not criminalized a single parent.
2. The law is no more Nanny state than speed limits on the road. There are already lots of things parents do not have the right to do to their children … like deny them food or an education for example.
3. The law will protect our children from harm in the long term because no longer will adults who hit their children be able to hide behind a ‘reasonable force’ argument.
In conclusion I told my family story for one reason. I want all of us to wake up and realize that this law change is not about a short term fix. Rather it recognizes that it takes generations to change attitudes to violence. It’s a step in the right direction.
My father saw his father hit his children and then he hit me. I have never hit my children. Don’t you want to stop that sort of cycle? Then Vote YES.
My father only ever hit me when he got angry. Don’t you want to help parents find other ways to deal with their anger? Then vote YES.
My father hit me too often and he hit me too hard. What happens when “a light smack” doesn’t work? Can it escalate? I can tell you the answer is YES.
You have a chance next month to have your say about the sort of NZ your kids and grandkids and their kids will grow up in. Will it be a NZ where children are protected from assault by adults like everyone else? Say YES.
Will it be a NZ where everyone knows that it’s not right for a fully grown adult to hit a partly grown child? Say YES.
I’ll leave the last word to a 15 year old Maori boy, who, let’s face it statistically is at greater risk of being a victim of violence than anyone else in NZ today.
“Violence is a ripple effect. It starts off as a drop in the water but soon creates a ripple effect which disturbs all the waters. This is no different than smacking a child. It may start as a smack but can trigger other violent behaviours from both the parent and the child. We need to keep our waters calm and let children have peace in their own homes.”