An online campaign urging parents to stop forcing little children to hug and kiss adults against their will is making a special appeal to protect children ahead of Christmas family gatherings.
New Zealand child abuse charity CAPS Hauraki is behind a viral social media campaign warning parents they could be setting up children for a life of abuse if they insist their offspring have no say in hugging or kissing other adults.
The controversial campaign uses a pretty five-year-old girl as the face of every child.
In it she speaks directly to adults about consent and the importance of not being made to dish out hugs and kisses against her will.
"I am 5. My body is my body. Don't force me to kiss or hug.
"I am learning about consent and your support on this will help me keep myself safe for the rest of my life."
It has been followed with a similar style message in time for Christmas from a grandparent's perspective respecting the wishes of children if they do not want to give a hug or be tickled.
Another message warns a visit to the mall to sit on Santa's lap can be distressing and encourages parents to give their children a choice so they know they are the boss of their body.
The simple but arresting message has sparked a storm on the internet with adults polarised over whether children should be made to kiss relatives and family friends as a matter of respect.
In just over nine weeks it has been shared by more than 51,000 users on Facebook and amassed nearly 500 comments.
The organisation, which works with child abuse victims, said the campaign was not about banning children giving adults hugs and kisses but intended to change community cultural attitudes to consent and body ownership in order to protect children.
It was vital to keep children safe from a life of abuse and was important to normalise a child's right to do what they wanted with their own body.
"We are not against affection. WE LOVE HUGS AND KISSES! But they must never ever be forced upon a child," it posted on its Facebook page.
It has made a special appeal at Christmas time to extended families to not act against children's wishes.
"It is that wonderful time of year when families visit each other- and when we have a golden opportunity to teach our children about consent!! This holiday season we need grandparents and family members who understand that children shouldn't be forced to do things, even harmless hugs and tickles, against their consent."
The organisation also said the message wasn't about "inappropriate touching" but "forcing" children to engage in affectionate behaviour when they clearly didn't want to do it.
It was important children were taught they were the boss of their own body and shouldn't be forced to do anything with it against their will.
1 in 3 girls victims of sex abuse by 16 in N.Z.
"The "inappropriate touch" is another very important message that we get across too. The consent message is about changing the culture here in New Zealand where 1 in 3 girls are victims of sexual abuse by the age of 16. Let's get this straight; we need our children to know that when they say "no" it counts," posted CAPS Hauraki in response to a cascade of comments on its Facebook page.
The messages have drawn a slew of comments from across the globe.
"As a person who works at a sex offender treatment facility and with most of the offenders being family members, some of you need to rethink this notion of teaching your child to comply with family members wishes. Normalising physical affection against their wishes is setting children up for failure," posted Kisha Harp.
"Remember who the majority of child abusers are. People whom your child could have been told to 'give a kiss' or 'give a hug' to when it was unwarranted. Just because they're little doesn't mean they can't decide for themselves. They're people, not just your kids," posted Michelle Lewis.
But the message hasn't met with universal approval by all posters.
"The fact that they aren't old enough to make their own decisions makes children CHILDREN. By following this logic of children "not being forced to do anything they didn't want to" is ridiculous , children need to be taught that compassion and love are important parts of life , and just because they don't "want to " give grandma or grandpa a kiss on the cheek ,doesn't mean they shouldn't," posted Alexa Dolcimascolo.
"This is absolutely terrible advice. Encouraging your kid to kiss and hug their loved ones teaches them AFFECTION. I can understand that many kids are shy when it comes to strangers, as usually a high-five will be sufficient... but to be distant from family members, including parents? How will we be able to trust and love one another when kids at crucial development stages are taught to be distant from one another?" posted
- NZ Herald
Is forcing a child to kiss or hug a relative he/she doesn't want to really a display of affection, or a display of obedience and powerlessness? Abused children are voiceless; "No" can be used inappropriately by children and turn them into tyrants, but if we remove that word from their vocabulary when it comes to relationships, we are shutting their mouths and ensuring their voice will not be there when it is needed most.
Perhaps the answer doesn't have to be at one end of the scale or the other. We can encourage our children to express affection, and we can set an example, but if they cringe at the suggestion, we should respect their feelings and judgment. Children are often better judges of people's character than adults. I think we should encourage them to listen to their hearts and not force them to do what they are loathe to do. That is setting them up for a pedophile.