Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Violence against kids is not okay

Who knew medieval thinking about discipline was still with us? Photo / 123RF
Who knew medieval thinking about discipline was still with us? Photo / 123RF

There is a wonderful moment late in The Sopranos TV series where mob boss Tony Soprano's wife, Carmela, tells his sister, Janice, that Tony never ever hit their children - no, wait ... he once hit Anthony jnr, and he felt absolutely terrible about it.

If we can accept that even a fictional Mafia thug draws the line at violence against children, how much harder should it be to believe that violent behaviour is condoned by teachers and others charged with their care?

Yet recent cases indicate violence between and against children is widely accepted.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that non-violent means of dealing with children are effective.

Anti-smacking legislation, touted as likely to lead to all sorts of dire consequences, has been the law for seven years now. Not many would claim that the past seven years have led to an epidemic of pre-pubescent lawlessness.

But it does seem to have occurred alongside an increased acceptance of questionable behaviour by adults against children, particularly in recent weeks.

First came the revelation that an 11-year-old with autism had been shut in a "dark, cupboard-sized room" not once but 13 times in nine days - a frequency that suggests the strategy is less than effective.

Who knew medieval thinking about discipline was still with us?

Almost as worrying as the discovery of the practice itself was the Ministry of Education's admission that, although it knew this sort of thing was going on around the place, it didn't have any firm figures.

Well, no one would deny those autistic kids can be quite the handful - but that's a function of their condition and not something for which they should incur punishment.

Even Serco doesn't lock people in dark rooms.

This week also saw a report on goings-on at a youth justice facility run by Child, Youth and Family, which found, among other things, that inappropriate force had been used on children and that on occasions they had been placed in secure care as punishment, not just to care for them securely.

Well, CYF is CYF and no one expects to hear anything but bad news about that soon-to-be defunct organisation. Its replacement, labouring under the Orwellian title Ministry for Vulnerable Children must at least be given a chance to prove itself when it comes into being next April.

But at the very least, most of us would hope it will lead to a world where children in state care are not subject to the sort of treatment described in this report.

Until now the Office of the Children's Commissioner has been the watchdog keeping an eye on such facilities.

So it's slightly ominous that Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has said: "The role of the Children's Commissioner is likely to change as a result of the overhaul of New Zealand's care and protection system and we'll be looking at funding when that becomes clearer."

But perhaps the most worrying recent story involving violence and children, partly because it was the least spectacular, was the report of a fight between two boys at Rosehill College, recorded on a video posted on YouTube.

Youtube is burdened with no end of such videos. But this one was different because it showed two teachers wearing high-vis vests - presumably so they wouldn't be mistaken for children and get punched in the head by accident - were present and not doing anything to stop the fight.

There was a good reason for that; according to the school's principal Sue Blakely the teachers had called for back-up on their walkie-talkies and were waiting for it to arrive.

She "had previously told staff members that their safety must come first and advised them not to intervene or put themselves at risk".

Is fighting really such an accepted part of this institution's life that it has developed protocols for dealing with it? That isn't high school. That's Mad Max.

Not so long ago, when it was reported that film of a fight between school children was on YouTube, that footage would be immediately taken down.

That hasn't happened in this case, which shows that this sort of conduct has become normalised and taken for granted.

It certainly occurs regularly at many more schools than Rosehill but we shouldn't become so desensitised by its frequency that we accept it.

- Herald on Sunday

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 25 Oct 2016 02:46:57 Processing Time: 689ms