Friday, April 06, 2007

Pita Sharples on Section59

this from

A piece of legislation that is getting everyone talking around town is the Bill to repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act. You will no doubt be aware of the background to this Bill.

Basically, Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 states that the parent of a child, or a person in the place of a parent, "is justified in using force by way of correction towards a child, if that force is reasonable in the circumstances".

Now I guess there will be lawyers amongst you, analysts, and those who indulge in the craft of word-smithing that will know exactly what sort of a challenge would face a jury, in deciding if the force used was 'reasonable' in the circumstances.

How much harder though, to determine whether the parent had grounds to use reasonable force to get his/her child to perform their normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting. Because this sounds uncannily like correction.

Is it reasonable for a father to hit his eight year old son eight times with a piece of wood 30cm by 2 cm?

A 30cm ruler for crying out loud - since when do we call rulers "pieces of wood"? Why not just take the thing to it's logical conclusion and tell New Zealand that the man hit his son with a branch? Click here to see the "piece of wood"

Is it reasonable for a father to hit his 12 year old daughter with a piece of hosepipe, leaving a raised 15cm-long lump with red edges? Apparently so, according to some recent jury decisions.

Well not everyone thought so, and consequently a humble little Bill, consisting of a mere three pages, came upon the order paper. And before you know it a cyclone of fury and indignation had swept throughout the country, as New Zealanders expressed their horror that the State would seek to intervene in matters that they felt were best left to the domain of the parent.

It's an ethical issue, it's an issue of integrity; it's an issue of courage. We, in the Maori Party, are firmly committed to the concept of self-determination, of ensuring the people drive their own journeys forward; are supported to achieve their own dreams. But we are also staunch advocates of the notion of collective responsibility - which translates in this case, to all of us having a role in the upbringing and care for children.

By this I think of the vertical and horizontal care which takes into account the roles of grandparents, siblings, aunties, uncles in helping to impart the duties, responsibilities and obligations that exist within whanau. Literally layers of generations are able to be drawn on to parent the child.

One of the incredible gifts that whakapapa provides us with, is the wide range of choices which genealogies offer.

In my own case for instance, I have the histories and legacies of Ngai Te Kikiri o te Rangi and Ngati Pahauwera of Ngati Kahungunu to draw from. The inspiration of my ancestor, Toi Kairakau; the expansive breadth that flows from this genealogy, is my history, my bonding to these islands.

And I also draw on ancient Anglo-Saxon history, the Sharples of Bolton near Lancashire.

Every child born has a huge range of ancestors to learn from; the history of their people; the origins and the adventures of their ancestors; the songs, proverbs and folk stories left to them.

The responsibility for nurturing that character rests with us all. It is our responsibility to create the desire to learn; to inspire the confidence to take risks; to motivate and encourage.

It was Galileo who said, "You cannot teach a child; you can only help him to find it himself".

Even the best of us get it wrong some times... Of course you can teach a child.

And the greatest thing about this is that if we do believe in collective care, we can be confident that even if it is not I, myself, Me - who unlocks the key, there will always be someone in the greater family, who will see the gifts in your child, that perhaps you are not looking for.

In a thesis written by Averil Herbert, Whanau Whakapakari: a Maori-centred approach to child rearing and parent-training programmes, she explains how these vertical and horizontal care arrangements I have referred to, work.

The thesis was informed by eight kaumatua, who all consistently referred to the many generations who were part of their upbringing. One kuia described the impact this parenting had in her own parenting practice today, in her words:

"I have one sister and her children are very close to me. I see them as my own children. My sister's mokopuna, they are my mokopuna. The children of my first and second cousins are like my nieces and nephews. I am very close to them".

The influence of senior female relatives in teaching and instilling Maori values was consistently referred to. One kaumatua spoke of this as 'the kuia model'.

This model is still very active today. We know in some of our smaller rural areas, that say if a teenager was to get in trouble with the police, the community constable knows the most effective outcome is often to ring up one the kuia known for caring for these kids, the ones who know to pick up the responsibility.

That same role of being 'everybody's nanny' may also mean they turn up in homes, when they suspect the environment is failing to keep children safe, and abuse free.

What has become startlingly clear to me over the debates of the last few months, if that we must be vigilant to promote violence free homes, to raise the bar, to set standards which truly seek to uphold peace and justice in our families.

Yes Pita, even though 85% of New Zealand says that Repeal of Section 59 is not the way to achieve this.

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