“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat It.” – George Santayana
New Zealand, which has a population a 4.47 million, has one of the highest rates of child abuse in the developed world. It also has one of the worst rates of child death by maltreatment within the family.
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 and indications are that in a similar percentage of child abuse cases there is also domestic violence occurring.
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
In 2012 Child, Youth and Family received over 125,000 reports from people concerned enough about a child’s safety to notify authorities. In over 21,000 of these cases, child abuse or neglect was confirmed. Around one-fifth of them (4000) were taken from their families and put into Child, Youth and Family care homes. But it was in these supposedly ‘safe homes’ that at least 23 vulnerable children were further abused.
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 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 programs which failed to address high child mortality rates, unequal access to services for Maori children and a lack of data around child abuse.
Child Poverty in New Zealand
New Zealand has the dubious distinction of having the fastest growing rate of social inequality of all OECD countries.
It is estimated that in New Zealand today 270,000 children are living below the poverty line, about 47% of who are of Māori or Pacific Island descent. Comparatively, the majority of New Zealand’s population is of European descent (69 percent) with the indigenous Māori being the largest minority (14.6 percent) and non-Māori Pacific Islanders (6.9 percent). Between the years of 2007 – 2010 data showed that 1 in 6 Pakeha (white European) children, 1 in 4 Pacific Island children and 1-3 Māori children were living in poverty (Perry 2011 – HES data on household income). These figures show, as with other Anglo colonised countries (Canada, U.S. and Australia), that the Indigenous people of New Zealand are disproportionally over represented in poverty statistics. Similar trends can be seen in child abuse where the rate of hospitalisation increased with increasing socioeconomic deprivation, with rates of hospitalisation for Māori children (39.1 per 100,000) and Pacific children (24.4 per 100,000) being significantly higher than for NZ European children (11.8 per 100,000). Seven times more young Māori women and four times more Māori children are hospitalised from an assault compared to Pakeha women and children. About 10 children are killed every year by family members. Half of all children killed by caregivers are Māori. Again, this number (50%) is disproportionately high when considering Maori people make up only 14.6% of the New Zealand population.
Child Sexual Abuse in New Zealand
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. Nearly 3000 women were questioned about unwanted sexual contact before they were 15. The results show that Maori girls suffer roughly twice as much sexual abuse as European girls – 30.5 per cent of Maori compared with 17 per cent of Europeans in Auckland, and 35.1 per cent of Maori compared with 20.7 per cent of Europeans in the northern Waikato. For 83 per cent of women, there was only one perpetrator. For 14 per cent there were two, and for 3 per cent more than two.
A national campaigner on male sexual abuse, Ken Clearwater of MSSAT, believes as many as one in three men have been sexually abused in childhood. Statistics in New Zealand showed one in eight boys had been abused in childhood, but he believed abuse was seriously under-reported. Findings from New Zealand’s Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) seem to support this claim, where in the Final Report of the CLAS it is stated: “As many boys as girls were sexually abused. About 57% of the men we saw had been sexually abused and 57% of the women.”
Research shows that up to 70 per cent of men in prison for non-sexual offences had experienced sexual abuse in childhood. Judge Carolyn Henwood who heads the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, which listens to ex State wards stories of historic abuse, said she was “shocked, stunned and staggered” by the high level of sexual abuse – particularly against boys. She says, “she’s listened to the stories of 600 New Zealanders who were in state care before 1992 and says it’s clear that poor care leads to crime and prison.”1Of the 399 people who raised serious concerns about being sexually abused in care – 100 told the panel they had disclosed the abuse at the time – and had not been listened to. It was estimated between 20 and 40 per cent of prisoners grew up in state care.
Being a teenager in New Zealand is more dangerous than in most other developed countries.
In 2012 The Lancet published a four part series on adolescent health which ranked New Zealand very poorly in comparison to other developed countries. In terms of adolescents (defined as 10-24 years by the Lancet) dying from any cause, New Zealand ranked 2nd highest out of 27 developed countries, after the US. New Zealand also ranked 3rd highest in terms of females suicide rates and was ranked highest out of all 27 countries for male suicides.
A NZ Health Ministry report for 2009 showed New Zealand’s male youth suicide rate to be the highest in the OECD.
That is despite falling from a high of 44.1 per 100,000 in 1995 to 29 per 100,000 in 2009. In total, 506 people died by suicide in New Zealand in 2009 – or 11.2 people per 100,000, down from 11.8 the year before.
Māori men and youth in particular were greatly over-represented. The total Māori suicide rate was 13.1 per 100,000 population in 2009, 23.6 per cent higher than the non-Māori rate of 10.6.
The Māori youth suicide rate of 28.7 per 100,000 population was 83.9 per cent higher than the equivalent rate for non-Māori.