A Christchurch jury will be asked to decide whether an Afrikaner's approach to parenting of his teenage stepdaughter amounted to criminal conduct.
The Crown alleges that his conduct - including belittling the girl, bullying and excessive discipline - amounted to child cruelty over several years after the family moved to New Zealand.
The defence says his behaviour was a response to extreme behaviour by a teenager.
Crown prosecutor Pip Currie told the trial today that the man continued with his behaviour even after he was warned that it was causing the girl, then 14, to self-harm by cutting herself.
"Over a number of years, the accused ill-treated his young stepdaughter by mental and psychological abuse to such an extent that she would self-harm and contemplate taking her own life," she said.
The girl is now 15 and is back in South Africa living with her father.
She gave evidence at the trial by audio-visual link from Johannesburg.
The trial before Judge Paul Kellar and a Christchurch District Court jury is expected to last four days.
The man, a 38-year-old contractor, denies three child-cruelty charges and two of assault with intent to injure over an incident in which the girl says she was choked.
The Crown will call 11 witnesses.
The man married the girl's mother in South Africa when the girl was 9.
The family moved to New Zealand in November 2008, living first in Invercargill and then in Christchurch.
The couple had another baby who was aged 9 months when they came to New Zealand.
Currie described the man's dominating conduct, excessive discipline, belittling and bullying, and favouring his own daughter.
The Crown said it amounted to behaviour likely to cause unnecessary suffering, injury to health, or mental disorder or disability.
"This is not a case of a wayward young girl who was being strongly disciplined by her stepdad. The Crown is alleging this was far in excess of normal healthy parental oversight," Currie said.
"The accused continued with this type of behaviour even after he was advised by a medical expert that how he was treating this girl was causing or contributing to her self-harm."
Defence counsel Denise Johnson asked jury members to keep an open mind as it heard the evidence.
She asked them to consider the dynamics in the family, and who the man was trying to protect when there was chaos and acting out in the family and extreme behaviour by the girl.
"Once it was learnt that she was cutting [herself], her behaviour was really out of control and this family was trying to cope with it."
She said the man struggled with the changes from his move to New Zealand, after he sold his properties and his business.
He was an Afrikaner, who was more conservative, while the girl's mother was from an English South African background, and was more liberal.
She said the jury would have to decide whether the events happened, and whether they amounted to ill-treatment.
She said that at the time of the alleged choking incident, the man had been defending himself from his stepdaughter, who was holding a knife and threatening him.
"You need to assess his actions in the light of that threat," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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