“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela
Child Abuse and Child Poverty in New Zealand: The “staggering” rates of child abuse and poverty in New Zealand were condemned in a United Nations 2011 report which called for the Government to better recognise childrens rights. Child abuse rates in New Zealand are among the highest in countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and 27 per cent of children are living in poverty – defined as a household earning 60 per cent less than the median income. As a quick summary of NZ and child abuse, among other things:
- In 2016 300,000, or one-third, of New Zealand’s children were living in poverty. This number had increased by 45,000 in one year
- New Zealand has the highest rate of domestic violence in the world
- In the 2011 United Nations Report on the Status of Women, New Zealand was ranked worst of all the OECD countries for rates of sexual violence
- Between the years of 2007 – 2010 data showed that 1 in 6 Pakeha children (white European), 1 in 4 Pacific Island children and 1in 3 Māori children were living in poverty (figures show that children in homes below the poverty line increased from 22 per cent in 2007 to 28 per cent in 2010, and had dropped back only slightly to 27 per cent by 2012). By 2015 child poverty rates were back to 2007 – 2010 highs.
- A 2003 UNICEF report demonstrated that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of child death from maltreatment (physical abuse and neglect) among rich OECD countries. NZ ranked 25th on a league table of 27 countries with 1.2 deaths per 100,000 children.2
- Over one in four NZ adults has experienced childhood trauma or abuse, family violence and/or sexual assault.3
- NZ Police respond to one ‘family violence’ call every seven minutes. Police say that in 60% of domestic violence cases children are also being abused.
- An international survey found that one in four New Zealand girls is sexually abused before the age of 15, the highest rate of any country examined.
- Research shows the police only hear about 20% of all family violence incidents and 10% of sexual violence offences.
- Rates of child abuse in New Zealand have risen by 32% in the last five years, with instances happening to children who are already in the care of the state.
- New Zealand’s suicide rate for 15-19 year olds is one of the highest in the OECD and double that of neighbouring Australia.
- In 2007, UNICEF found New Zealand teens were more likely to die before they turned 19 than in any other developed country.
- New Zealand was called to task by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in June, 2015 for failing to adequately protect children.The UN report heavily criticised aspects of law and government programmes which failed to address high child mortality rates, unequal access to services for Maori children and a lack of data around child abuse.
- In 2013-14 there were 117 children in the custody of Child, Youth and Family (CYF) reported to be abused; 88 were in the care of a CYF caregiver, 25 were formally placed with their parents but still officially in CYF custody, and five were abused while living with an unapproved caregiver or in an unapproved placement.A 2015 report by the Children’s Commissioner slammed the government’s handling of children in State care. Principal Judge Andrew Becroft said the report was a vital piece of work. He said the Youth Court dealt with the most damaged, dysfunctional and disordered young people in New Zealand, and the overwhelming majority of them had a care and protection background. Judge Becroft said it sounded simplistic, but what the report highlighted was the need to do the care and protection work better. “So that we’re not left, for instance, with, as I understand it, 83 percent of prison inmates under 20 have a care and protection record with Child, Youth and Family.”
- New Zealand has entered a reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which reads: “Nothing in this Convention shall affect the right of the Government of New Zealand to continue to distinguish as it considers appropriate in its law and practice between persons according to the nature of their authority to be in New Zealand including but not limited to their entitlement to benefits and other protections described in the Convention, and the Government of New Zealand reserves the right to interpret and apply the Convention accordingly.” This effectively negates New Zealand’s responsibility to respect child rights within the international human rights framework.
- To date, New Zealand has no official “Duty of Care” towards children written into law
I decided to start this site after being awarded $30,000 NZD (approximately $24,000 USD, $23,700 AUD) for sexual and physical abuse I suffered over 30 years ago while in the “care” of the New Zealand State. I am told that my payout is at the highest end of the scale and that the remuneration (ex-gratia payment) for the harm I had/have suffered was in line with what others had received for similar abuse.
The so-called “highest end of the scale” payout was highlighted in an email from the “Senior Solicitor” of the Government Department concerned (The Ministry of Education) with:
“Thank you for your email. I can understand your disappointment and your reasons for thinking that the amount offered by the Ministry is inadequate. Please be assured that the Ministry is genuine in its willingness to provide whatever assistance it can to you. However, the Ministry does have to maintain an equitable approach and with that in mind, the amount offered to you is at the highest end of the scale of what has been offered in similar cases.” (Jyotika Sharma, Senior Solicitor NZ Ministry of Education; email dated July 4 2012).
Additionally, the New Zealand Ministry of Education had made an apology of:
I deeply regret that you were subjected to these experiences and that you did not receive the care and support required to be provided at the school because this former staff member abused his position of trust and breached the requirements in place…. Please note however that this payment and apology is offered on a “without prejudice” basis. It should not be taken to indicate that the Ministry accepts legal liability for this matter. (Lesley Longstone, Secretary of Education) (footnote)
In other words, ever so sorry with one proviso – a legal disclaimer! WTF?
To add insult to injury this was also noted in the letter from Ms Longstone:
“I sincerely hope that bringing this matter to the attention of the Ministry, this apology and the offer of an ex-gratia payment will assist you to put this part of your life behind you.”
I didn’t even know what to make of this… I mean, was she talking about the part of my life where I was denied justice due to incompetent, callous and arguably parasitic legal representation (Sonja Cooper Legal/Cooper Legal which is the second highest receiver of legal aid in NZ as a result of representing over 700 Historic Abuse claimants ) and a patently politically got to New Zealand “Legal Services Agency” (LSA – now LAS as of July 2011)? Or were they talking about the part of my life where I lost the woman I loved and a country (France) to call home? A part of my life where I spiraled into drinking heavily each day and my world came apart at the seams as I recalled memories that were best left buried in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind? A part of my life where I became an international vagrant as a result of losing my love (my anchor – my joy) and home – ending up in an $8.00 a night hotel in Bali shortly after being released from prison in Thailand after a bar fight where I hospitalised one individual (a Norwegian) and assaulted another (a British National) who had interceded in the brutality I had unleashed on the Norwegian who was half my age, had at least 20 kilos on me, and traveled under the name of “Scar Face” (A story in itself; however, as irrational as this may sound, when the pain is at its worst taking out a predator makes me feel, momentarily, better).
Or, were they actually suggesting that their apology, along with their $30,000 NZD politically motivated payout could now help me put behind being raped, sodomised, beaten, and traumatized as a child and then left to fend for myself without so much as an acknowledgement (let alone a sorry), nor offer of counselling, to help me heal from what had occurred with their full knowledge over 30 years before? Were they actually saying that $30,000 NZD and their apology (with a disclaimer and no offer of ongoing support and/or counselling) could now help cure the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I have suffered throughout my life? A debilitating condition that has, at times, totally controlled my life and rendered me unable to function as a healthy human being. If this were the case, then the answer would need to be a categorical NO! No Ms Longstone, with all due respect, putting behind what happened to me all those years ago is never likely to happen. The apology possibly would have also been somewhat more credible as a genuine apology had it been written by yourself. (footnote)
I have decided to go public via this site in the hope that others involved in these cases can have a voice. That is, ‘our’ own voice beyond the mass media and the NZ Government’s blatant PR spin. Please, if you were abused while in New Zealand state care (or any other institution – e.g.The Salvation Army or Catholic Church) and have, like myself, been treated with contempt by the NZ Government make contact with me via this site. If nothing else we deserve a voice. More importantly, our stories need to be told so that hopefully our lives (our stories) may bring about change with regards to effecting policy to protect future generations of children, whether in New Zealand or elsewhere.
- After putting the words, “Please be assured that the Ministry is genuine in its willingness to provide whatever assistance it can to you.” (Jyotika Sharma, Senior Solicitor, Ministry of Education) and, “I deeply regret that you were subjected to these experiences and that you did not receive the care and support required” (Lesley Longstone, Secretary of Education) to the acid test and asking whether the NZ Government was prepared to cover counselling costs, this is part of the response I received:
“The basis of this payment was not because the Ministry was legally obliged to offer compensation, but rather on moral grounds acknowledging that you suffered harm as a result of this experience and in order to assist you to move forward.
The Ministry does not hold itself responsible for the unauthorised criminal actions of a former school staff member. The Ministry does not have unlimited funds and has made you a fair and reasonable payment that is consistent with payments made in similar cases.
The Ministry can provide no further assistance and therefore will no longer engage in any further discussions in relation to this matter.”
Correspondence signed by Katrina Kasey, Deputy Secretary, Regional Operations (November 2012)
- The letter of apology (with legal disclaimer) had been provided to Lesley Longstone, Secretary of Education, by Murray Witheford, a so-called “Independent Investigator”, who just happened to be an ex Ministry employee that the Ministry had appointed to investigate my case. This is/was noted in the “Investigation Review” written and supplied to the Ministry of Education by Mr Witheforde which states: “It is recommended that an ex gratia payment be made. The advice acknowledges the appropriateness of an ex gratia payment to respond to circumstances that give rise to a moral obligation rather than a legal liability… Accordingly I recommend that: the secretary… B) sign the attached letter of apology to Mr Edited.” DOWNLOAD FULL “INVESTIGATION REVIEW” (217KB PDF)
- Secretary of Education, Lesley Longstone resigned the Ministry in December of 2012 after a year of “mistakes, mismanagement, and incompetence”. Ms Longstone’s resignation came a day after Ombudsman David McGee slammed the Ministry over how it handled official information requests, in one case “inappropriately suggesting” to Christchurch City Council that it should refuse an Official Information Act (OIA) request on the basis that “the information requested is not held by the council” – which it knew was untrue. Ms Longstone was recruited from Britain and had been in the job for just under a year. Ms Longstone received more than $425,000 – $1640 for each day she spent in the role - for her early departure. She also received $157,523 in outstanding holiday pay and payment in lieu of notice. It’s somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow that Ms Longstone’s failures were worth $1640 a day, while my life and the State’s failures were worth less than $1000 a year for the 30 plus years since my abuse occurred. More here….