The Dom Post editorial:
Over the past five years, more than 50 children have died as a consequence of child abuse.
The names of Sahara Baker-Koro, James “JJ” Lawrence and Karl Perigo-Check are now seared in the national consciousness alongside those of Nia Glassie, Chris and Cru Kahui and James Whakaruru.
But, despite the public expressions of dismay, the political tut-tutting and the considerable efforts of police and social workers, children living in a land of plenty continue to be killed and beaten by those they have every right to expect will love and cherish them.
The sweeping law changes unveiled this week by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett are an attempt to turn the tide by making bureaucrats more accountable, introducing a form of mandatory reporting and banning child abusers from working, living or socialising with children.
Some were concerned that the green and white papers would be a talkfest that led to no change. It is good to see that significant changes are proposed.
Another proposed change – giving judges the power to ban suspected, but not proven, child abusers from contact with children has raised the hackles of civil libertarians. However, presented with a choice between trampling over adults’ rights and trampling over children, the minister has chosen to tilt the balance in favour of vulnerable children.
The select committee which considers the legislation may yet have something to say about allowing courts to impose child harm protection orders “on the balance of probabilities” rather than the higher criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”. The threat of injustice is real.
But, given New Zealand’s sorry record of protecting its most vulnerable, the minister’s precautionary approach is understandable.
I have doubts over the threshold, and want to see evidence that you need to extend CHPOs to people without convictions.
However when talking about this on radio last night, I did think of a possible example. The Kahuis. It is beyond doubt that either the father or mother neglected or killed the twins. They basically blamed each other, which meant neither was convicted beyond reasonable doubt. However we heard enough to form an opinion that they were very bad parents. So maybe that is the sort of case intended?
New Zealand’s horrific record of mistreating children has not just seared itself on the national consciousness, but on the minister’s consciousness as well. Future generations may have reason to be grateful.
We will need more than just law changes. As I mentioned earlier today policies such as placing kids with extended family need to be reevaluated also.