Today Dr Dawn Elder presented an oral submission on the Bill to repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act (1961) on behalf of the Paediatric Society of New Zealand. (Click here to view the oral submission)
The Paediatric Society of New Zealand has over 400 members, the majority of them Paediatricians and other child health professionals experienced in the care of children and young people. The society therefore represents those working at the forefront of child health care in every DHB in the country.
"There is now unequivocal evidence that adverse experiences in childhood, including exposure to severe physical punishment, have long-term effects on the physical and mental health of those affected in our population. These risks to the health and wellbeing of our society need to be taken as seriously as the risks for diseases currently considered high-profile by the Ministry of health such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer." Dr Elder said.
The Paediatric Society of New Zealand sees repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act as a critical component of the message that violence towards children is harmful.
"The majority of cases of child abuse, including fatal child abuse, that we see and assess as paediatricians, are the result of physical punishment that is more severe than was intended. This punishment has been delivered by caregivers who have a problem controlling their anger. In many cases as we get to know these families we find that the caregivers themselves were brought up in environments where both verbal and physical violence was the norm."
The focus of the Paediatric Society is not on whether or not parents are convicted in these cases. There is no evidence that the conviction and punishment of caregivers will alter the prevalence of child abuse in this or any other country. The Society sees the primary issue at stake as being the protection of children from violence. "The successful use of a statutory defence to assault of a child, possible under the current law, puts the child at risk of exposure to further assault." Dr Elder said.
Dr Elder says those working with children in health in New Zealand feel that it is time to stop talking about the problem of child abuse in our country and to start on the solutions. Repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act is a start. "We need to be clear that our tolerance for violence towards children must be at zero. Just as it is not acceptable to physically assault spouses, the elderly and animals in this country, so let it be in law that this is not acceptable behaviour towards children either. If we cannot acknowledge that children have the same rights to freedom from violence as the adults and animals in our society do, we will never be able to successfully address the significant problem we have with child abuse in our country"
Dr Dawn Elder
Work: 04-3855999, pager 2198