Tasmania’s State law gives parents the right to physically correct a child using “any force that is reasonable in the circumstances”.
Tasmania’s new Children’s Commissioner Eileen Ashford’s call for change in this law was triggered in part by a recent trial in which a couple was found guilty by a jury of mistreating their 3 year old daughter with a regime including hitting the toddler with a stick, with plastic pipe, forcing her to keep her nose to a “dot” on the wall, leaving her in cold water for extended periods, and leaving her in wet and soiled bed sheets as a punishment for wetting the bed. The court was also told she was emaciated when taken to hospital with a head injury in July 2008. The couple used the defense that this regime was reasonable under the circumstances in light of the fact that they felt that they had exhausted all other options of controlling their children. While this couple was found guilty, the trial involved complications concerning what constitutes reasonable force, as had numerous previous trials.
Eileen Ashford says that the government needs to look at amending the legislation to make the safety and well-being of children paramount. The government considered amending the law in 2003 in order to clarify what is permissible. However, the issue stalled and the amendments never took place, at least in part because a poll indicated that Tasmanian parents overwhelmingly opposed limitations on their rights to use corporal punishment against their childen.
A community study this week gave some indication that views on corporal punishment may be changing and that they vary between older and younger Tasmanians, with younger Tasmanians believing corporal punishment should not be used on children.
Former Tasmanian Greens leader Peg Putt, who introduced a Bill to ban the use of corporal punishment in Tasmanian schools in 1999, said it was no longer appropriate to use harsh corporal punishment at home. Ms. Putt said child abuse had been excused in Tasmania in the past as strict corporal punishment. Ms. Putt said as follows:
“This needs to be addressed by Parliament, but politicians shy away from the issue because there are such varying views in society about what is appropriate and what constitutes abuse. I am not unsympathetic to the fact that some parents have trouble coping. But that is not an excuse for abuse. If parents are not coping they need to be helped.”
The Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, released an outline of proposed fundamental changes in the Australian system of family law.
A major shift from the current Family Law Act passed in 2006, which emphasizes shared parenting, the proposed laws would place fundamental decisionmaking focus on the best interests of the child.
The 2006 laws were seen to better serve fathers seeking access to children after divorce or separation. However, the proposed laws are designed to place protection of children from abuse as a primary criterion, before even the child’s right to see his or her parents. The proposed law also expands the definition of family violence.
Mr. McClelland said he wanted laws ensuring child safety concerns outweigh the need for a child to have a relationship with both parents.
The legislation is currently in draft and open for public comment through January of 2011.
Researchers at McGill University, led by Tie-Yuan Zhang, PhD studied the impact of early maternal affection on the GAD1 gene, which affects production of a chemical known as GABA vital to brain communication. Earlier research has shown that GABA helps to regulate emotion and that people with schizophrenia may have GABA deficits.
Studying the maternal behavior of rats specifically bred to be either extremely caring or rarely affectionate, the McGill researchers found that affectionate maternal care in very early life can lead to increased GABA production, while maternal neglect leads to obstruction in the regions of DNA that control the GAD1 gene.
This research indicates that early life environment, specifically the type of maternal care in babyhood, through epigenetics, can influence brain function, including influencing predisposition to mental illness.
• Former California Assemblymember Ted Lempert now heads a children’s research and advocacy organization called Children Now. Particularly strong on issues of education and health care, Children Now focuses on spreading awareness of children’s rights based on its fundamental position that children lose out on political protection due to a lack of funding and power.
• California State Senator Joe Simitian’s office shows his commitment to public service in part through employing a staff member exclusively dedicated as a nonprofit liason, Hema Mohan, and publishing a quarterly nonprofit newsletter.
• Martin Teicher, Harvard professor, neurologist, psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of the neurobiological effects of child abuse and neglect is conducting a webminar on the effects of child abuse ad neglect on brain physiology this Friday Nov 12 at 12 p.m. PST.