Friday, 6 July 2007

6 July 2007 - Family Integrity #270 -- Larzelere's parting comments

Dear Friends,

World expert on corporal correction Dr Robert Larzelere visited NZ earlier this year. If you haven't already done so, you must read his parting comments (reproduced below)as he left NZ just before the final vote which criminalised it here in New Zealand. Very sobering reading.


Craig Smith
National Director
Family Integrity
PO Box 9064
Palmerston North
New Zealand
Ph: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389

Our Home....Our Castle

if Section59 is repealed - or replaced...

NZ’s Anti-Smacking Law Most Extreme in the World
Dr Robert E. Larzelere

After 28 years of research, I came to New Zealand on behalf of her children, her parents, and her ethnic and religious minorities with the boldest claim I have ever made in the public arena: “There is no sound scientific evidence to support a smacking ban.” The best evidence the Children’s Commissioner could muster against that claim on the Campbell Live TV program was about my written reply to an anti-smacking article in a scientific journal 14 years ago - not because of its content, but because the journal was sponsored by a Ph.D.-granting Christian university! How could someone as knowledgeable as Dr. Kiro emphasize such a ridiculous criticism? She got that criticism from her Canadian consultant Dr. Joan Durrant, the Pied Piper who wants to lead New Zealand’s children to the Swedish utopia that she could not lead her own country’s children to - because the Canadian Supreme Court retained their country’s version of Section 59 after considering both sides of the scientific and legal evidence.

What does this Swedish utopia look like? One year after Sweden’s smacking ban, 3% of their parents admitted beating up their child - 2 to 5 times higher than the overly high American rate. Physical child abuse increased almost 6-fold during the next 15 years, according to Swedish criminal records. Criminal assaults by minors against minors increased over 6-fold during that same time period. The ability of parents to enforce appropriate discipline continued to erode until only 31% of 10- to 12-year-olds thought that parents had the right to use grounding in 2000. All these statistics come from Swedish anti-smacking authors.

Even more worrisome, the imminent New Zealand smacking ban is more extreme than Sweden’s ban in three ways. Using force to correct children will be subject to full criminal penalties, although the government’s politically clever but inconsequential concession gives police the discretion not to prosecute mild offences. Sweden’s ban had no criminal penalty. In addition, New Zealand’s bill bans the mildest use of force to correct children, not just smacking. This removes most disciplinary enforcements parents have used for generations, especially for the most defiant youngsters. Finally, the required change in disciplinary enforcements will be the biggest change ever imposed on parents.

The New Zealand bill’s proponents claim that missionaries were responsible for introducing smacking and bashing to the Maori and other South Pacific peoples. The irony is that they are doing the same thing they accuse missionaries of - imposing a European philosophy of child correction on native ethnic groups - this time enforced with criminal penalties. In addition, the gap between what will be technically criminal and what will be prosecuted opens the door wide for discriminatory enforcement.

The bill is motivated by a commendable desire to reduce child abuse, but it will make it a crime to bring the most effective treatment for abusive parents to New Zealand. In a review of 20 years of treatments for abusive parents, eminent abuse researcher Dr. Mark Chaffin showed that none of them turned out to be effective. He then developed a new treatment that decreased recidivism of child abuse charges from 49% to 19%. It will be a crime to bring that treatment to New Zealand, however, because it includes a non-smacking type of force to enforce time out.

Everything seems backward to me in New Zealand - people drive on the left side of the road and are now preparing for winter instead of summer. And it is the liberals rather than the conservatives who take absolutist positions and impose their values on everyone else, including over 80% of Kiwis who oppose this ban. They also show little cultural sensitivity toward others who are different in religion or ethnicity.

The pervasive confusion about what will be permitted under the new law makes the pre-existing law allowing parents “reasonable force to correct their children” seem reasonable indeed, although it needs to be updated to clearly exclude physical abuse.

As Bill Clinton said of abortion, smacking ought to be safe, legal, and rare. His successor had an overly optimistic view about invading Iraq because they heard only one optimistic side of the scenarios. Now our country is in a quagmire with no good way out. For the sake of New Zealand’s children and future, I hope they have a better exit strategy than George Bush.

With this bill, New Zealand will leapfrog the field to ban more forms of traditional disciplinary enforcements than any other country. But their ban runs counter to scientific evidence, previous experiences with similar bans, and the wisdom of previous generations as far back as we can remember. It illustrates the world’s increasing inability to work out well-reasoned balanced positions rather than forcing people to choose between polarized extremes.

As I prepare to leave New Zealand, I have difficulty holding back the tears whenever I see its beautiful children, knowing they are about to be victimized by the most extreme and unproven social experiment in history. I feel like the engineer who predicted that the O-rings on the Challenger space shuttle were likely to fail, but no one would listen. His tragic prediction proved all too accurate. I hope I am less accurate about the forthcoming failure of New Zealand’s smacking ban than that engineer was.

Dr Larzelere is Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at the Oklahoma State University, and was brought to New Zealand by Family First NZ as a scientific expert on child correction.

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