The book, Physical Punishment in Childhood: the Rights of the Child, was authored by Dr. Bernadette Saunders, a Senior Research Fellow at Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia (CAPRA) and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work, and CAPRA Director Professor Chris Goddard.
The book was launched by Justice Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC, former Chief Justice, Family Court of Australia and Chair, National Centre Against Bullying (Australia), who called for law reform that accords children the same protection from assault as adults.
“I see the passage of such a law as a means of community education and I think it important that we continue to press our politicians to enact such a law. This approach has been successful in 25 countries including New Zealand and we should continue to press for it here,” Justice Nicholson said.
Providing a wide spectrum of views, the authors explore the fine line between normalised physical punishment and illegal or unacceptable physical and emotional abuse of children. The book also deals in detail with the responses of children to physical punishment.
The inclusion of children’s responses throughout the book was an important feature, Justice Nicholson said, “for all too often the children, who are the subjects of this form of punishment, are never heard”.
“Children’s responses (to physical punishment) include fear, diminished regard for their parents, confusion, feelings of being unloved, comparisons between their parents and schoolyard bullies and loss of trust,” Justice Nicholson said. “If more parents were aware of children’s responses to physical punishment, parents might reconsider participating in the behaviour and seeing it as acceptable.”
A 13-yr-old research respondent said, “parents think hitting is sort of their right… I guess parents have gotta learn to respect children”. A child aged nine said: “If adults have physical contact with someone, like punching â€˜em, it’s against the law… they could go to jail, they could be charged with assault … and that’s exact same for smacking. But, if you’re a kid and it’s in the house, it’s okay because they’re your kids. If you’re a kid, it doesn’t really matter. You barely have any say”. The key message to adults came from a 12-year-old who said “there’s a better way than hurting someone”.
The book builds on the emerging field of research that provides opportunities for children to speak for themselves about their views and experiences. CAPRA at Monash University is a leader in this field.
Dr Saunders, who also calls for law reform, said that being a parent was an enormous responsibility as children were vulnerable and looked to their parents to be role models.
“It’s not appropriate to hit adults, so why is it still considered acceptable to hit children and young people? Children are very impressionable and parents have a huge responsibility to teach their children constructive and responsible behaviours,” Dr Saunders said.
“There appears to be an anomaly that parents who love and protect their treasured children do not question hitting them and causing them physical and emotional pain. Many parents regret using physical punishment and would rather use more respectful discipline methods that are positive and effective in the long term rather than a reactive, short-term fix. Parents need education about normal childhood behaviours and alternatives to physical punishment as well as non-stigmatising support services,” Dr Saunders said.
Dr Bernadette Saunders and Justice Nicholson are both available for comment. To arrange an interview contact Samantha Blair, Media and Communications + 61 3 9903 4841 or 0439 013 951.