Here I was, sitting at the playground while Juno and Ramona hang off the rusty roundabout, all ready to write about how a one legged Barbie has infiltrated our lives when my husband reads out a BBC headline:
And my fingers are struck numb and dumb.
About our Barbie, at least.
My mind shot immediately to a quote I’d read by local child right’s hero Pennie Brownlee just this day- about how we need to completely overhaul our perception of children.
I read the articles about Unicef’s report with these words ringing through my mind. There is an enormous number of children growing up in violent homes- how much can changing our perception of children change the experience of childhood?
Here in Thames, NZ, Pennie and a small team have been teaching respectful parenting courses for several years- and I’m sure- I am so sure!- there is a palpably different parenting culture here. It is apparent at tots groups, in the kindergarten, here at the playground. There is just *that* much more respect for children. I’m sure of it.
New Zealand is one of the 41 countries that have laws about violence against children- although absurdly this government has made noises about reversing it, and surveys seem to show 50% support for this.
The law came in in 2007- probably one of the most controversial laws implemented in recent years. It basically made smacking a crime. Which, if you consider children as being real people with real rights, makes real sense- but very few other countries are willing to go there. Now, this wasn’t a case of just awesome old New Zealand generally just being awesome: great beaches, inventive personalities, relaxed working environs, anti smacking bills! Not at all, actually the statistic on child abuse here are dire, truly dire. They really HAD to do something about being one of the worst OECD countries for child abuse.
I hosted an event earlier in this year with the politician that made that law happen, Sue Bradford, and I was convinced by her report on the difference it had made to the lives of children here. There had been an increase in reporting of child abuse, and nearly every incidence of abuse reported was serious. (It is often suggested that laws like this will put gentle parents who non thinkingly give a violent shake when their child runs across the road in prison- NZ shows this simply isn’t the case.)
I believe that we can build a world where childhood can be free from violence- where children don’t grow up in fear. We all have a role to play in that- by respecting the children in our lives, recognising their rights and defending them. Family life is far less violent now than it has been in history- we can be encouraged that culture does evolve, albeit slowly. Paradigms and perceptions do shift. Heck, it used to be commonplace to leave babies deemed to weak or sensitive on a hillside. (Read Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World for more on this.) We can change the culture of parenting and the experience of childhood.
And when we, as parents and teachers and neighbours and grandparents, are willing to consider children as rights holders, then their right to safety and security might be written into law. The UK has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child – but as yet have no anti-smacking policy.
We need these laws, absolutely, but we need a cultural shift too. And we can herald that.
It’s easy to feel immensely hopeless and unendingly helpless, reading about the violence bleeding into so many children’s lives. Children dying this very day. I want to hold a minutes silence for them in my heart.
I guess I want that silence to somehow warm a kernel of hope. To set my parental feet in the ways of non violence, and gentleness, and respect. To hold tight onto what history shows us about change. We can only do a little bit, but we should do it, and we will see few moments the ripples that can make across the world.
Here are some other words from Pennie, to finish my sort of inspo-rant:
“Here in New Zealand, when enough of us begin to change the way we behave with babies and children, we can look forward to climbing up from our dismal position of last on the table of OECD countries for child abuse, neglect and fatalities. I look forward to that day with all my heart.”
Oh, yes! Let’s herald that day. Let’s increase the minutes on that statistic until it’s a statistic that doesn’t exist anymore.
One legged Barbie can get her rant (non-inspo variety) on this blog another day…