Laying the smack down

It has been reported extensively that the previous Labour Government failed to mobilise it’s support base in it’s traditional stomping grounds such as Aukilani Sisifo / West Auckland and Aukilani Saute / South Auckland in the last elections.  Many people just didn’t turn up on voting day, as they had done in the last election, thereby reducing Labour’s chance of staying in power.

There are a whole heap of reasons why Labour supporters either changed votes or didn’t vote at all.  But one of the main reason Pacific Island / Samoan Labour voters were turned off in the last election was what became known as the “Anti-smacking bill”.

This was a law put forward by Greens MP Sue Bradford, and which the Labour Government supported, repealing section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961.  Previously, many adults who had seriously assaulted children and young people and were appropriately charged by the Police, had used the section 59 relating to ‘reasonable force’ as a defence when they went to trial and were acquitted in court for crimes that, if perpetrated against an adult or an animal, would have resulted in a conviction.

When the bill was first proposed the battle lines were quickly drawn.  The religious right were up in arms about the Christian value of a parent being able to discipline their children, and shouldn’t involve the State.  Where as the liberals countered saying children need to be protected by the law from abuse as an adult would, and that too many child abusers were using the defence to get off the charge.

As devout Christians, many Samoans agreed with the religious right.  No law was going to stop a parent from disciplining their child.  As comedian Russell Peters puts it, “my father would say: If I get rid of one, I’ll just make another one… and I’ll tell the new one what an idiot the last one was!”

We all remember getting a good ol fashioned beating.  And many of us would agree that at the time it hurt like hell, and there were times where we wanted to and probably tried to run away from the inevitable.  But I’m sure we would also all agree that it was necessary, it was part of growing up and learning lessons.  We probably feel we are better people because of those hidings.  And in many ways, we would exact some sort of version of those same disciplinary actions on our own kids.

I often wonder what the effectiveness of “time out corners” are.  They always seem like empty threats.  The real threats were the ones where you knew your parents were capable of carrying it out.  As a kid half the time I was scared not of the actual hit, but the threat of the hit.  “Ia e faatalitali se’i o’o i le fale, ona vaaiai loa oe…” (You wait until we get home, then you better watch out).  That usually ended with “le fusi pa’u” (belt) or “le salu” (hand broom) or “se’evae” (jandal).

I’ve been in situations where my non-Samoan friends have full on shouting matches with their parents.  Not only was it rude to do it infront of me, but it showed these kids knew they could get away with it.  Words weren’t going to stop them.  As for my house, words AND actions definitely stopped us kids from doing bad things.

But the other side do have a point.  Our community is plagued with issues of child abuse.  Of course, our definition of child abuse probably differs from the definition of mainstream palagis, but even we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.

My uncle is a well known Kamuta / Carpenter in Samoa.  About a decade ago the family flew him over to renovate our great uncle’s house.  Using the young men in the family he created his little team of tradesmen and did a great job at it.  He always had time to teach us younger guys little tips and skills in building.  I was always fond of those times, going over to help, muck around trying to build something with spare wood, climbing on the roof and then back down.

But there was one incident which has stuck in my mind.  My uncle’s daughter had a bit of a cheek, and one day when it got out of hand, my uncle gave her a hiding for being tautalaitiiti / a smart arse to an older cousin.  There weren’t any adults around, from what I could remember, but us younger ones either stood there staring in shock, or quietly tried to continue on as if nothing had happened.  This wasn’t a light smack, or even a hard smack.  It wasn’t the usual fusipa’u beating that me and my siblings were used to, it was a two-by-four plank of wood!  I don’t know if something was up with my uncle that day, or if he is normally that way, but he beat her bad: bleeding and till she was black and blue.

I don’t know if our parents sometimes come home stressed from work, daily pressures etc, and unfortunately take it out on the family.  But that crosses the line from discipline into anger management issues.

In any event, the law was passed making it an offence to physically abuse a child, unless the contact is inconsequential (or some fancy legal term like that).  However, Niu Sila / New Zealand will be voting on a non-binding referendum on whether people support the change in law or not.  Without going into the debates over direct democracy, the wording of referenda and the non-binding nature of it all, this appears to be a waste of time (albeit a valued democratic process).

Since the passing of the law, there has only been one person convicted, and not the hoards of honest law-abiding parents the religious right said would be caught.  Furthermore, the issue has died down.  People have moved on.  A certain balance has been found, where child abusers will be punished, and parents can continue disciplining their kids ‘inconsequentially’.

It must be said that Sue Bradford isn’t only about liberalising laws, but she advocated for public education on the issues.  Parent’s need to be helped into recognising when discipline turns into child abuse.  To the previous Government’s credit, it ran a successful anti-family violence campaign: “It’s not ok”.

My parent’s gave us the beats, but also loved us and cared for us.  Discipline was not done in anger but with a purpose to make us into better people.  I’d like to think I discipline my kids now and then, but that is balanced with love and affection, knowing when I am angry, or actually giving out proper punishment. 

Most Pacific / Samoan families are like this.  But like Sue Bradford and Co have said, there are those that aren’t.  Those people should no longer hide behind the law.  At the same time we need to change out attitudes and culture towards child rearing.

Therefore, it’s no good just changing laws and hope people will change, but there needs to be support services, educational material, advertising campaigns: all things needed to change society’s culture.

I’m all for disciplining our kids.  But there’s got to be a point where “It’s not ok”.  There’s got to be a line in the sand.  Sometimes we have to lay down the smack, and not lay the smack down.

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2 thoughts on “Laying the smack down

  1. Thanks Dianne for the comment. Yip, there def needs to be a better definition of abuse or discipline. But from my understanding of the old law, that’s exactly what the problem was. People (lawyers) were interpreting “reasonable force” broad enough to include child abusers.

    But I totally hear you on the ‘Samoa’ definition of discipline! A ‘sasa’ and a ‘po’ can go a long way than a ‘time out corner’.

  2. great post !

    it was just today that me & my aiga were having a chat about the smack’sz i use to get on the mouth when i said something i wasn’t supposed to. the smack’sz were quick & alway’sz came right after what i did & alway’sz came with the a strict talking to afterward.

    i also like to reminisce on the worst beating i ever got in my life. it came after i got a call from my teacher & my bus driver because i was being smart with them. my dad (at the time) had a hurt leg & strapped on his medical boot & i knew the worst was coming… and it did *lol. i got double teamed & got licked by my dad & MOM at the same time, but i knew i deserved & i can look at it & laugh.

    the time out corner alway’sz seemed really palagi to me & i thought children who got that never learned anything… & i secretly hoped to get put in time out myself *lol. (for a break i mean)

    the thing with beating’sz is that there is a thin line between discipline & abuse. DISCIPLINE is a set of licking’sz to teach a lesson ‘immediately’ after the action or with a warning about the licking’sz immediately after the action. you should also be able to look back on your licking & say that you deserved & you might even be able to laugh at it too (like me) ABUSE is unnecessary use of force (such as a 2x4) for small thing’sz, & if you look back & have dark thought’sz about the set of licking’sz or can’t figure out why you got them then i believe it’sz classified as abuse.

    in niu sila, there doesn’t need to be an anti-smacking bill, there need’sz to be a better definition of what abuse is. in addition to what i said, the liberal’sz need to offer an alternative disciplinary action somewhere between the non-effective “time-out” corner & the VERY effective sasa (which they consider abuse… but i don’t)

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