12 December 2019
Violence and Children
Its not evangelical if its not good news!
At the General Assembly 2006 two decisions were made which targeted two groups of people and for those groupings, children and those in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage these decisions by our church obscure the good news of the Jesus Christ , that they are loved and valued in the sight of God. I will explore the matter of the children in this letter and on Sunday November 5 look at the issues of sexuality and give some of the reasons why the Session has written the letter in this newsletter to the National church and Presbytery stating our concern on an decision which targets, excludes and stereotypes a group of people within the church itself..
Section 59 of the Crimes Act (1961). says that parents are justified in “using force by way of correction of a child if the force used is reasonable in the circumstance”. The motion was to support repeal of this section of the Act It was lost and one of the arguments was that by voting for this the “special bond between child and parent is removed” I wonder if the speakers really listened to what they were saying?
Children are among the most vulnerable members of our communities and we in the church have a fundamental responsibility to protect and nurture children. We also have this enshrined in our own KidsFriendly and Community centre policies at St Johns.
Section 59 of the Crimes Act singles out children as the population group on whom assaults may be legally perpetrated by parents or guardians. The word “force” in the context of the legislation carries implications of the seriousness of levels of violent force on the child concerned. It allows parents who are arrested for assaulting their children to use section 59 as a defence by saying that the assault was justified, reasonable or carried out to discipline the child.
The Pediatrician’s society is supporting repeal, as they have first hand evidence of this happening in cases where their patients have been seriously injured, [one child not being able to sit or lie on her back for five days], yet there have been acquittals under this act.
The message that this law sends to parents who are not coping is that force is all right and if we look at the fatal child abuse cases in NZ, the vast majority of them are situations where babies and children have been "disciplined to death."
The churches social agencies who deal with the damage done in violent families are asking for repeal of the law. Presbyterian Support Northern, in particular, has positive parenting in place in its Ngongotaha project, where a whole community is involved in looking at alternatives to perpetuating a violent culture. PSN has been active to asking for repeal of this law.
Some have a concern that parents may be prosecuted for trivial events but
Dr Cindy Kiro the Children’s Commissioner.states that “Removing a statutory defence to assault of a child by parents does not create an offence of physical punishment for which parents can be prosecuted and convicted,”
The Chief Commissioner of the Families Commission, Rajen Prasad.states that the Commission is aware that there is concern among some parents that repeal may lead to an increase in prosecutions but he states that there is no evidence that this has happened in other countries where similar changes have been made in the law. In New Zealand there are also safeguards within the justice system that give police options other than prosecution, including warnings, cautions and pre-trial diversion, He also says that the “ Police do not prosecute for trivial offences now, and we do not expect that to change “
If we can raise our children without raising a hand, we teach them that hitting people is not acceptable. This in turn will reduce their tolerance for violence and help create a safer society . One of our own parishioners has as her work in CYFS as helping Pacific Island communities to learn good parenting skills in a new culture where parents can be so easily overwhelmed without the familiar support systems of the island village. Our church needs to show models of positive parenting and alternative ways of exercising our God given parental responsibility to guide and teach our children rather than supporting an old and out of date law.
While the decision made to keep this legislation does not automatically assume the position of condoning violence – the intention of our social justice committee in asking the General Assembly of the PCANZ to support repeal, was that commissioners should not take the perspective of parents concerning the way they deal with their children, but to think as a church looking at the issue of social justice for children afflicted by the values and culture of violence.
How do we as a church respond to a child who is too scared to go home because of fear created by the parent[s] who abuses his or her power under the name of “a way of correction” There is a question of how will we answer the child who asks “what have I done to deserve this? “ How does the church which supports force against children respond to the child when saying “why is God doing this to me?’
And we need to also recognise our responsibility toward the perpetrator whose spirit is affected by inflicting violence.
A few minutes later we voted to have a commitment to creating non violent values and behaviour in the community.. If we are committed to follow that recommendation how can we be truly proactive in promoting non-violent values and behaviour if we cannot start from where we are in our family and our own homes? When we have a parenting seminar in our adult education programmes how does that fit with our supporting the use of force on children in the law of the land?
We at St Johns are very aware of the violence in our own community. We need good news for the children and parents – that the cycle of violence can be broken in the streets and homes of our area - and to be bringers of that good news we need to be a place of safety and refuge for the vulnerable ones. We need to be able to support parents in their responsibilities to guide and teach their children not with threats and fear but with love and patience and in a real world where that is not always easy. [And those who are parents or teachers know how difficult it can be not to get angry and react in the heat of the moment.]
At this 2006 Assembly which had as its theme “Christ centred and Community facing” we failed to address what it means to face the community which is affected by violent values and behaviours as bearers of the evangelical [good news] gospel and be leaders in changing our culture. May God have mercy on us.
May God give us all wisdom and above all love for one another
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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