New Zealand is considered one of the best places in the world to send a child to school. It is an outstanding place to let children grow up in relative safety, with all the luxuries of a modern nation, combined with superb recreational opportunities outdoors. New Zealand children are afforded rights and a level of freedom that children in many other countries can only dream about.
However New Zealand is one of the worst performing nations in the O.E.C.D. when it comes to addressing child wellbeing. Millions of dollars, changes in social policy and government reviews have failed to address the causes of why toddlers such as Lillybing, and a long sorry list of others, have died from abuse, from a Once Were Warriors type upbringing. Some of the steps that I think New Zealand needs to implement to reduce the rate of abuse include:
- Removing the right to silence from caregivers of children unable to speak for themselves when being interviewed by the Police
- Reforming the Family Court
- Restoring the imbalance of males to females in early childhood education so that male role models exist from an early age as much as female role models do
Children come under peer pressure from fellow classmates, friends and others they associate with to do daring, and not always proper things. Some like inhaling butane or other dangerous substances can lead to deadly results including premature funerals. Others, such as committing shoplifting, graffiti or playing tag with the Police have wider consequences for society because victims are created and the taxpayer becomes involve. Out of all of these acts there is an element of responsibility that always seems to be ignored, at all levels – by children, by their parents and caregivers, by society at large. We can legislate bans, or other changes in the law to stop tragedies happening again, but once started, it is a slippery slope that begins to quickly encroach on the freedoms of the majority. What is so damn hard about accepting responsibility for ones actions?
I think New Zealand would also fare poorly if an assessment of how the courts deal with child abuse cases, in terms of successful outcomes, resolving family disputes, adoption issues and youth crime. The aforementioned decline of accepting responsibility is just part of the problem. Absent role models in families, unstable upbringings and the ability of the parents to find and hold down work can all come into play. Being able to pay for medical bills, school fees, food, transport and so forth are another problem altogether, though quite relevant.
If I were being generous in grading New Zealand’s effort across these issues, I would give a C, but an honest grade is probably a D.
We have the resources, the know how and the means to fix the problem. But it seems that a glacier can move faster than the progress being made by New Zealand on this. And that is not good enough.