01 April 2007

Section 59 – or what about non-violent parenting?

(Will the popular childrens series Pingu be banned in New Zealand?)

Currently there is an interesting public discussion making waves in New Zealand. It is about the proposed repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act, brought before parliament by Green Party MP Sue Bradford. The purpose of this Bill is to stop force, and associated violence being inflicted on children in the context of correction and discipline.

The discussion has been noisy, even strident and unpleasant. Is this just a popular political side-show, or how deep does this issue really go? If we can believe the opponents of the bill, then a police state is being born here, and personal freedom of parents to discipline their misbehaving children is severely restricted or even being taken away. An essential part of the Kiwi way of life and culture is about being legislated away and lost – or so most god-fearing Christians like make us believe.

In our constant endeavour to create a civilised and evolved society where do we draw the line? Should it be legal to hit your children, but not your wife and animals? In the Koran, the holy book of Islam, the line is drawn in Surah IV, Verse 34, which states that if the woman doesn't obey the man, they should be beaten (though the situation is not always as clearcut). Now, we all 'know' that Islam is the enemy of our culture – they mistreat women and sanction their beatings. We in New Zealand, would never do that - yet it should be our god-given right to beat our children?

This society is still steeped in institutional violence. How otherwise would one explain the uproar at a bill that basically wants to make non-violent parenting the norm? Our violence is not just against children and a variety of other people, it is also against nature and the environment. We've abused and mistreated the planet to an extent that we are now facing global climate change.

We may have experienced incredible technological advances over the last century. We have also learned a lot about how to educate children, and we know that hitting them is counterproductive if anything. However, we also need to match those advances with moral and ethical evolution as well. The opposition to this bill just shows that we have much more difficulty to mature ethically and morally than we have adopting new technological gadgets. And it shows that we still have long way to go until a non-violent society becomes the norm.

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