Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
19 December 2001
Survey results on public attitudes to smacking
Justice Minister Phil Goff today released the results of a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Justice to ascertain
public attitudes towards the physical discipline of children.
“I asked the Ministry to commission the research to inform ongoing policy work on section 59 of the Crimes Act.
“Under section 59 parents are justified in using force by way of correction towards the child ‘if the force used is
reasonable in the circumstances.’
“The survey shows that 80 percent of the public agreed that a person parenting a child should be allowed by law to smack
the child with an open hand if they are naughty.
“However it showed the public is adamant that this should only occur within strict limits on the type of force used.
“The use of objects to smack a child and smacking them in the head and neck areas drew an overwhelmingly negative public
“Only 15 percent agreed that a child should be able to be punished with a wooden spoon or belt.
“Only 1.3 percent agreed that a parent should be legally allowed to smack a child in the head or neck area.
“A negligible 0.4 percent thought parents should be allowed to use objects like a piece of wood or an electric cord to
physically punish a child.
“A majority of people (75 percent) believed that only a smack that left no mark was acceptable. Force, which involved
bruising, was found to be unacceptable by almost everyone.
“The Courts by and large have reflected changing public opinion when interpreting section 59. However there have been
several cases where juries have failed to convict parents for using force in excess of what most people regard as
“It is likely that eventually public attitudes will move towards repealing legal sanctioning of smacking as has now
happened in most European countries.
”In considering the issue Cabinet did not believe that a change in law which resulted in parents being prosecuted for
minor smacking was desirable.
“Cabinet supports as a first step education programmes to inform parents about positive alternative forms of discipline.
Other programmes would promote attitudinal and behavioural change,” Mr Goff said.
NB: The Ministry of Justice survey will be posted on the Justice website www.justice.govt.nz from 4pm today.