Consultation on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill

Tystiolaeth i’r Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg ar gyfer craffu Cyfnod 1 Bil Plant (Diddymu Amddiffyniad Cosb Resymol) (Cymru)

Evidence submitted to the Children, Young People and Education Committee for Stage 1 scrutiny of the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill




About you

Organisation: Save the Children New Zealand

1      The Bill’s general principles

1.1     Do you support the principles of the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill?

— Yes

1.2     Please outline your reasons for your answer to question 1.1

(we would be grateful if you could keep your answer to around 1000 words)

Children have the right to be protected from all forms of violence, this includes physical and corporal punishment. This right is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 19. 

Article 19.1: States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s), or any other person who has the care of the child.

Further to this there are 100s of high level studies,over many decades, that have found physical punishment to be very harmful to children.

Decades of research has consistently linked physical punishment with risks of harm and poor developmental and behavioural outcomes for children.  ‘The research linking physical punishment with harm to children is, with only a few exceptions, consistent and unidirectional, and it has been replicated across a range of study designs and methods, thereby increasing the validity of causal inference.’  Parental use of physical punishment has been associated with poor outcomes for children such as, ‘… low moral internalisation, aggression, antisocial behaviour, externalising behaviour problems, internalising behaviour problems, mental health problems, negative parent–child relationships, impaired cognitive ability, low self-esteem, and risk of physical abuse from parents.’   Many parents remain unaware of this research as there has not been a public campaign to inform parents on why choosing not to hit children is good for their parenting as well as their children. More information about this can be found in the Save the Children New Zealand report, Changing Attitudes to Physical Punishment of Children in Aotearoa New Zealand,

1.3     Do you think there is a need for legislation to deliver what this Bill is trying to achieve?

(we would be grateful if you could keep your answer to around 1000 words)

Yes, legislative change is essential if true change is to take place.  Legislation signals, at the highest level, there is no place for the physical or corporal punishment of children and legally alternative non-violent discipline measures are legally required. It also signals that the State accords children the same human status in according them the same protections from assault. 

This is in line with consistent recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that children have the right to be legally protected from all forms of violence - including physical punishment. 

In New Zealand there is a correlation between the change of the law to protect children from physical punishment and declining public tolerance of physically punishing children.  Whilst other factors may also influence this change, the downward trend over time is clear.

Public tolerance of physical punishment of children continues to decline.

Support for violence free parenting has more than doubled since 2008, with 43% of New Zealanders disagreeing that it is okay to physically punish children, up from just 20% in 2008.  Parents disagree with the statement at an even higher rate with 50% completely disagreeing with physical punishment, 30% being unsure, and just 19% continuing to support the use of physical punishment.

Eleven years after the law change support for violence free parenting in New Zealand is now significantly higher.  Evidence from international research into the benefits of violence free parenting continues to grow, therefore these changes in attitude are encouraging and positively support healthy child development and wellbeing.

2      The Bill’s implementation

2.1     Do you have any comments about any potential barriers to  implementing the Bill? If no, go to question 3.1

(we would be grateful if you could keep your answer to around 1000 words)

It is important that a public campaign is undertaken to inform the public of the harms of physical punishment, and why protecting children from this harm is necessary.  It is also essential parents are supported to change their discipline methods and equipped with alternative non-violent practices.

Further to this debunking myths that have outdated historic or fundamental religious foundations that physical punishment is good for children are essential.  Children should not be harmed for any reason including religious or misguided cultural reasons.

2.2     Do you think the Bill takes account of these potential barriers?

(we would be grateful if you could keep your answer to around 1000 words)

The background information report that has been developed to inform this Bill, seems to take the barriers into account.  It is important that the barriers are taken seriously and resources are committed to mitigate the barriers.  The are no barriers, from our point of view, that give any weight to prevent the adoption of this proposed legislation into law.

3      Unintended consequences

3.1     Do you think there are there any unintended consequences arising from the Bill? If no, go to question 4.1

(we would be grateful if you could keep your answer to around 1000 words)

We are aware that misinformation that amounts to scaremongering is being promulgated in relation to the prohibition of physically punishing children in New Zealand.

These claims include:

Lots of parents have been prosecuted

Lots of parents have been referred to social services, and had children taken away or at risk of being taken away

Violent behaviour by children has increased

Some arguments are being made about limiting law reform that may continue to allow physical punishment of children in some form. 

Every child has the right to life, survival and development, and to be safe from harm, including from physical abuse and punishment.

It is our view that as a society we must move beyond outdated and misguided beliefs that physically punishing children does them no harm or is good for them, just as we have in relation to intimate partner violence where it is very clear there is no justification for use of physical force as a method to correct or control. 

Over the last 11 years New Zealand has seen a significant attitude change take place where the public tolerance of physical punishment of children continues to decline. Less than 20% of parents think that it is ever okay to physically punish a child.  Further to this support for the 2007 law change prohibiting physical punishment of children is positive and continues to increase.  

New Zealand’s prohibition of the legal use of physical punishment for the purposes of correction was welcomed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2011, in their concluding observations on New Zealand’s combined third and fourth periodic report (CRC/C/NZL/CO/3-4, paras 28 - 30).    

Prosecution of Parents

Exact numbers of parents prosecuted for physically punishing their children is unknown.

In the most recent case that we are aware of, made public in October 2018, a father was charged for smacking his child.  He was extremely remorseful of his actions and he completed a parenting course, he was discharged without conviction and granted permanent name suppression. Media link to the case,

In this case the Law is working, the four-year-old child has greater likelihood of being protected from future assaults.  The father was not criminalised and was supported in his parenting through completing a parenting course.  There has been some moral panic whipped up by opponents to the Law that protects children from assault; but the facts as we know them show the Law is working in its primary objective, which is to protect children from harm.  

There is no factual basis to the claims made that many parents have been prosecuted.  The police monitored and reported on the implementation of the Law until 2012 and in the main minor assaults were not reported or prosecuted.  The implementation of the Law has not been monitored since 2012.

Intervention by Oranga Tamariki (New Zealand’s child protection agency)

It is not possible to provide conclusive information on reasons for Oranga Tamariki uplifts of children from their parents.  The specific reasons per case, and for all cases, are not made public, therefore statements made that many children are being taken away from their home due to a light smack have no factual substance.

Oranga Tamariki have produced public information in relation to guidance on ‘The Smacking Issue’,

They clearly state their grounds for investigating harm to children;

‘The change to the Crimes Act did not change what constitutes physical abuse within the context of child protection. Our working definition of physical abuse remains:

“An act, or acts that result in inflicted injury to a child or young person. It may include, but is not restricted to, bruises and welts, cuts and abrasions, fractures or sprains, head, abdominal or internal organ injuries, strangulation or suffocation, poisoning, burns or scalds” (Child, Youth and Family, 2001).

It also did not change the definition of when a child or young person is in need of care or protection in section 14 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. Section 14(1)(a) requires actual or likely harm, abuse, or ill-treatment. If a report of concern relating to smacking or hitting is referred to Oranga Tamariki, social workers need to consider it in the same way as they would any other allegation of assault or violence against a child. Social workers should continue to apply the same threshold level of harm as we do when considering whether a child is in need of care and protection

Given the common understanding of “smacking” involves an open palm, sharp slap, leaving no enduring mark or injury to the child, it is most unlikely to constitute physical abuse. Oranga Tamariki are concerned primarily with the abuse and neglect of children, not incidents of light smacking. A report to Oranga Tamariki of a light smack of a child will not, in the absence of any other aggravating circumstances, constitute grounds for further action.”

Violent behaviour of children 

There is no proven relationship between not physically punishing children leading to children becoming more violent.  However, there is clear evidence that children who experience violence are more likely to be perpetrators of violence. 

We are unable to find any evidence that children have become more violent in New Zealand since the 2007 law change prohibiting the physical punishment of children.  

Research by the Ministry of Social Development published in 2016, ‘Offending by Children in New Zealand’, shows that children have actually become less violent over time. 

Large drop in shoplifting, and violent offending down

Theft, particularly shoplifting, is the most frequent type of offence committed by children, followed by burglary and property damage. Theft showed the largest numerical decrease between 2009 and 2013 (898 or 43%). Violent offending by children has reduced over the last five years with robbery-related offences halving, while acts intended to cause injury reduced by 25%. Sexual offences were the only offence type not to reduce in number over the last five years.’ Page 2 of the report.

The impact of violence on children 

A recent report, ‘Every 4 Minutes: A discussion paper on preventing family violence in New Zealand’, published by the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor shared key findings on the impact of violence on children.  Please see attached to this email. 

The statistics in this paper shows the very real relationship between family violence, crime and incarceration. 

Most criminal offenders have themselves been targets of violence: 

80% of child and youth offenders have experience of family violence  

87% of young offenders aged 14-16 years in 2016/17 had prior care and protection reports 

75% of women in prison have reported family violence and sexual violence 

A history of sexual abuse is the strongest predictor of reoffending by young females.  

When children experience violence in their early years, the physical and psychological trauma has long lasting impacts.  Evidence, from around the world, shows how developing brains of babies and young children are directly impacted and stimulated by their environment, nutrition, and physical and emotional experiences, and relationships. 

If this environment is loving and caring and supported by good nutrition, the brain growth is optimal and these children more likely to thrive and reach their full potential. For those that experience continual violence, abuse and trauma, their brain growth becomes stunted and the adverse effects may be evident for the rest of their lives leading to poor outcomes associated with outcomes ranging from mental health problems and psychiatric disorders, to physical health problems such as heart disease, brain injury, developmental problems, poor educational outcomes, behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse, and criminal offending. 

Therefore, it is completely illogical to suggest the physical punishment of children prevents children from becoming violent, or that lack of it encourages violence.

4      Financial implications

4.1     Do you have any comments on the financial implications of the Bill (as set out in Part 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum)? If no, go to question 5.1

(we would be grateful if you could keep your answer to around 1000 words)

It is reasonable to expect that as violent treatment of children declines, so should the public cost of responding to child violence and the flow on effects decrease.

It may there is an initial cost as adjustment to the new legislation takes place, and the cost of a comprehensive pubic campaign to provide information on why the law is necessary and how to use peaceful discipline practices.  However, it is our view that this is an investment in upholding the rights of children, and in working toward a peaceful and unified society.

5      Other considerations

5.1     Do you have any other points you wish to raise about this Bill?

(we would be grateful if you could keep your answer to around 1000 words)

The leadership the Welsh Government is showing to protect and uphold the rights of children, and to acknowledge them in law as equal citizens is inspiring.  We commend Wales in working toward, and committing to, a future where children are protected from all forms of violence.  Whilst the law change on its own may not fully achieve this, it is a giant and formidable step in the right direction.