By Maggie Tait of NZPA
Wellington, Dec 16 NZPA - A campaign focused on preventing child abuse is not the way to go, Children's Commissioner John Angus said today, in sharp contrast to his predecessor's position.
Dr Angus, appearing before Parliament's social services select committee, was asked by Labour MP and former Chief Families Commissioner Rajen Prasad, if work was under way for a campaign focused on child abuse as a follow on from the successful It's Not OK campaign on domestic violence.
Dr Angus said he did not think it was useful to have such a campaign.
"I think there are considerable risks around a campaign that focuses entirely on child abuse and neglect... the risks are that you turn a whole lot of people off, " he said.
Some campaigns in Australia were withdrawn because of negative reactions.
"I think the way in which keeping children safe secure and well nurtured has been built into that (It's Not OK) campaign and the focus on how (the community) can contribute to keeping children safe and secure is in fact the best way to go as a social marketing campaign."
There was good support for community responses as part that of campaign, he said.
Former Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro had advocated for a campaign targeted on child abuse and elder abuse as priorities, Dr Prasad said. He had also been involved in the work in his prior role.
But Dr Angus said: "I don't agree with that sort of `let's pick off the different population groups'."
Dr Prasad later told NZPA he was very disappointed by the position.
He said the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families had considered research when it designed the It's Not OK campaign.
"That's (the research has) already taken into account, so he's behind the eight ball," he said.
"The time would be right now, after having laid the base to really go into child abuse and neglect."
Abuse figures were too high and it was vital something was done, he said.
"The community is still very concerned, the figures are still bad, it hasn't gone away."
Earlier Ministry of Social Development (MSD) chief executive Peter Hughes, who chairs the taskforce, said priorities to focus on child and elder abuse remained.
"We've had a big focus on intimate partner violence. The taskforce has agreed that we are looking at domestic violence across the board in all its forms and will continue with that focus," he told the committee.
A spokesman for Mr Hughes later said a distinct campaign around child abuse was never the plan.
"The campaign and the ads will touch on all of those elements... there's never been any intention to theme the It's Not OK around a particular theme like child abuse or like elder abuse."
Dr Prasad said that was wrong and a focused campaign was intended.
The first part of the advertising campaign was around explaining family violence and saying it was never OK, while the next stage was to focus on stories of positive change and cover issues such as child abuse and intimate partner violence.
At the committee Dr Angus was also asked about a comment Prime Minister John Key made recently, saying lightly smacking a child was acceptable parenting in some cases.
"Who am I to criticise the Prime Minister?" Dr Angus said.
Mr Key had helped children by not changing the law, he said.
When pressed about how the comment affected the commission's work Dr Angus said the law stated force should not be used for the purposes of correction.
"Inflicting pain on children shouldn't be a practice we condone in New Zealand for the purposes of teaching children right from wrong or guiding their behaviour."
He said Mr Key's comment was in a way helpful in that it moved the nation on from a debate about defining smacking.
"To the extent that it moves us on from the prospect that their might be debate about when you hit children, what with, where and what age then I think it's helpful because I think a debate like that would be terrible."