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NZ Herald
July 18 2006

Mum in hot water at public pool over child nudity ban
by Jarrod Booker


Sophia Jones helps her twins Oliver and Charles change for a swimming lesson.
Picture by Brett Phibbs

Amanda Crozier was dressing her 16-month-old daughter at the side of a public swimming pool when an attendant approached and told her there was a ban on child nudity.

"You're kidding me, aren't you?" the mother of four replied.

No, they were not. She was handed a notice that explained the policy was designed to "minimise the risks".

So began a national debate yesterday. Managers of the pool at the Kaiapoi Aquatic Centre near Christchurch said some swimmers were offended by child nudity and they were also worried about the risk of paedophiles photographing naked children.

"It's not very often I get cross, but I got terribly cross about that," Mrs Crozier said. "It's a shame it has got to that degree really. They tell us they are looking after us, but really they are not because they are making it more difficult for us."

She said the two family changing-rooms at the centre were busy when she opted to change Ophelia at the poolside, and it also allowed her to keep an eye on her other young children who were swimming.

The aquatic centre management is standing by its policy, which is also in use at other facilities nationwide.

Manager Ann Bergman said the policy was introduced after complaints from pool users offended by child nudity, but also in response to concerns about lurking paedophiles or people photographing naked children.

"That's today's changing society. We can no longer do what we [did] in yesteryear. It's not just in pools, it is life in general. We have to change with the times," Mrs Bergman said.

National Party family affairs spokeswoman Judith Collins called the centre's stance "PC nonsense".

"These [centre management] are saying to this poor young mother that she should feel she is doing something dreadful in changing her daughter. They need to get a life.

"How do they think babies are born? Do they think they come all dressed? Maybe they think there are paedophiles lurking around delivery rooms. People need to start thinking about what exactly they are saying here. Do they allow people to see each other undressed in the changing-rooms?"

Former Children's Commissioner Roger McClay said he found it hard to believe that anyone could be offended by a 16-month-old child being dressed at a poolside. If there was a risk to the child, then the pool staff would be better off keeping paedophiles out.

"We can't go overboard with being so politically correct that it negates normal parenting behaviour that has been accepted through generations."

Plunket clinical adviser Marg Bigsby was reluctant to comment on the issue without seeing the full facts, but said: "It seems unusual that attention would be drawn to a 16-month-old child being changed in public."

Mrs Crozier said she had no desire to return to the Kaiapoi centre with her children unless things changed. "If they were to reconsider the whole policy that would please me a great deal."

Community Leisure Management, which operates 12 swimming centres from Whangarei to Nelson - including Mt Albert's Philips Aquatic Centre - has a policy of encouraging people to use family changing rooms rather than undressing children in public.

If a young child was changing in public view, "common sense needs to prevail", said general manager Craig Carter. "You don't want it to become commonplace with people changing by the pool. You have to draw a line in the sand somewhere."

Pool rule silly, say mothers

They were all giggles and smiles - running around the pool, splashing in the water, and having a great time.

And yes, some of these preschoolers at Newmarket's Olympic Pool yesterday were getting changed by the pool with their mother's help.

But at what age does it become inappropriate to let your children get changed in the open?

Parnell mother Nicky Russell, who was helping her 4-year-old son, Alex, to get changed by the pool, said it was difficult to pick an exact age.

"I suppose there is an age when they should go to the changing room but it doesn't offend me. Maybe when they get to about 8 or 10 they should go ... but it's hard to say."

She said her 7-year-old son got changed in the changing room, but that was his decision, not hers.

Ms Russell said the incident in Canterbury in which a mother changing her 16-month-old baby beside the pool was asked to stop was "absolutely ridiculous".

"Sometimes a mother doesn't have any choice but to change the kids near the pool."

Sophia Jones, who was at the pool with her 4-year-old twin boys, also expressed shock at the incident.

"I think it's ridiculous. I can't understand that at all.

"I could maybe understand it if there was a hygiene issue ... like changing a nappy near the pool, but it's just ridiculous."

She said she would start to feel differently about her boys changing in the open once they got to about 7 or 8.

Manager John Nixon said the Olympic Pool did not have a policy against parents changing their children near the pool. "We are a family-friendly pool and it's up to the parents to make the decision.

"Unless there were other circumstances surrounding what happened, I would say it's political correctness gone mad. Maybe if it was a 16-year-old getting changed it would be different, but not a 16-month-old. It's an overreaction."

- Maggie McNaughton