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Seen against a background of widespread violence toward children, New Zealand’s stand is something of which we can be proud.

New Zealand’s declining public support for physical punishment of children has been cited in a report on worldwide levels of violence against children. Seen against a background of widespread violence toward children, New Zealand’s stand is something of which we can be proud.

In a chapter entitled “Exploring attitudes and social norms”, New Zealand is held up as an example of how attitudes can change.

“A 2013 survey found public support of physical punishment of children to be declining in New Zealand. According to the study, 40 percent of respondents thought it was ‘sometimes alright’ for parents to physically punish children – compared to 58 percent in 2008, over 80 percent in 1993 and over 90 percent in 1981. The proportion of parents with children under 18 who thought it was acceptable to use corporal punishment also fell from 62 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2013.”

The 209-page report has sought out and analysed an extensive amount of data. In each chapter an introduction sets out the authors’ position.  On corporal punishment they say:

“Teaching children self-control and acceptable behaviour is an integral part of child discipline in all cultures. Positive parenting practices involve guidance on how to handle emotions or conflicts in a manner that encourages sound judgement and responsibility and preserves children’s self-esteem, dignity and physical and psychological integrity . All too often, however, children are raised using methods that rely on physical force or verbal intimidation to punish unwanted behaviours and encourage desired ones. In many cases, rather than being a deliberate disciplinary choice, such violent methods are used as a result of parents’ anger and frustration, or lack of knowledge of non-violent responses.”

It is sobering to see the level of violence inflicted on children overall. One measure is homicides of which there were 95,000 worldwide of children and young people aged 0-19 in 2012. These include crime/gang-related as well as ‘domestic’ homicides. 30,000 of these children were under ten. Regional 0-19 homicide rates varied from 12/100,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean to 1/100,000 in East Asia and the Pacific. 

Another measure is physical punishment. In Egypt, with the highest rate, a survey found over 40% of children aged 2-14 years had experienced severe physical punishment in the last month. By contrast a New Zealand survey in 2006/7 found one in ten children under 14 had experienced physical punishment.

This global level of violence to children exists in the face of every country’s (with the exception of the United States of America’s) commitment on paper to the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the report says, the Convention guarantees that children everywhere should live free from all forms of violence. It goes on to say:

“For this to happen, the true nature and extent of the problem must be documented.  It is to that end that this report is dedicated.”   

UNICEF report cites NZ stand against violence to children

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