Introduction

This submission is on behalf of many of the members within the Humanist Society of New Zealand who support the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill.

These members of the Humanist Society would like to make an oral presentation to the Committee.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.) represents the interests of non-theistic people in New Zealand. We seek to build a more humane society based on human and other natural values. New Zealand census figures indicate that 25% of the population have no religious beliefs and that 40% of New Zealanders have not indicated any specific religious belief.

Our organisation is an affiliated member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) with nearly 100 member organisations worldwide. This represents about 5 million members. Both the IHEU and the Humanist Society of New Zealand are strong supporters of Human Rights and are opposed to unjustified discrimination against minorities.

Submission

Many of the members within the Humanist Society of New Zealand support the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill. All the members of the executive National Council of the Humanist Society support both the proposed Bill and this written submission. The repeal of section 59 was supported by 94% of the members voting at the Humanist Society’s 2000 Annual General Meeting. However, there is not as strong support for the Bill as there is with some organisations that focus only on child welfare.

We support this Bill as it removes unjustified discrimination against children. The current legal situation means that children are not treated equally in terms of assault. There should not be discrimination against the very young and vulnerable for the same reason that there should not be discrimination against the very old and vulnerable.

We support this Bill because people have the right to not be subjected to torture or cruel treatment.

Freedom from discrimination and freedom from cruel treatment are part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as now being part of New Zealand’s human rights legislation.

People have a right to the manifestation of their beliefs but freedom of belief does not and should not take precedence over other more basic rights such as the freedom from cruel treatment. For instance freedom of belief does not give people the right to people to mutilate or torture others if they fail some religious or philosophical injunction.

Other alternatives to the physical disciplining of children need to be promoted. These alternatives include time-out or the removal of privileges to reduce undesirable behaviour in children. Although spanking may reduce or stop an undesirable behaviour, its effectiveness decreases with frequent use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking may then be to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered and this can quickly escalate into abuse.

However, if Section 59 cannot be repealed then we would recommend that clear demonstrations of child abuse be stated in law as being illegal. There is considerable support amongst Humanist Society’s members for at least this compromise solution. This position would mean that the light hitting of children would not constitute technical assault. However, extreme punishment that resulted in for example bruising, blood being drawn or broken bones would be clearly identified by the law as being child abuse. This explicit definition of child abuse would be necessary as long as there was the legal use of the term reasonable force whose meaning can vary hugely between different people.

We encourage the Committee to support the passing of this Bill and thank you for the opportunity to submit on this Bill.