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Licence To Parent To Stop Child Abusers?

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

Should prospective parents have to pass an exam before they have a child?

After seeing this morning’s headline in the New Zealand Herald: 'Carers charged for wire brush abuse', I’m certainly leaning towards it. If we allow people to drive only by passing an exam, surely becoming responsible for a life 24/7 is a little more important?

There have been 117 road fatalities in New Zealand to date in 2011. There are currently 6117 child abuse cases open before New Zealand police. I’m not downplaying the tragedy of either situation- but the scope and size of the child abuse “situation” we have is chronic.

Google us- we suck.

The UN this year called our child mortality rates “staggering.” John Tamihere said of Maori child abuse statistics (way back in 2003), that if “it wasn’t such a tragedy, it would be a joke.”

There’s even a site dedicated to exposing our “dirty little secret”: child abuse in New Zealand.

A New Zealander, Cherie Kurarangi Sweeney, who was “branded a nark” for talking to police about the death of baby Serenity earlier this year has started a Facebook page, STOP Death by Abuse of our Children, which had over 9,000 likes at the time of writing.

 What kind of culture condones child abuse, if not emotionally than certainly statistically? What kind of culture brands you a nark for raising the alarm about family violence? 

And yet, here we are.

A 2007 UNICEF Report: “An overview of child well-being in rich countries”, was unable to grade us overall on things like educational well-being, health and safety, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks, subjective well-being, because we had “insufficient data.” And in fact, the bits and pieces we did provide are not heartening- here are some facts:

  •  1st out of OECD countries for deaths from accidents and injuries under 19 years

  •  3rd out of OECD countries for the lowest infant immunization rate

  •  4th out of OECD countries for the highest infant mortality rate

  •  We have the lowest percentage of 15-19 year olds in part time or full time education

  • Our girls, aged 15-19, are second only to the United States for teenage pregnancy

  • We are in the top third of OECD countries with our 15 year olds reporting less than 10 books in the home

The Child Matters website has more facts:

  • New Zealand has the fifth worst child abuse record out of 31 OECD Countries

  • On average one child is killed every 5 weeks- most of these children are under five and the largest group is less than a year old,

  • Ninety percent of all child deaths are perpetrated by someone the child knew

  • Nearly 9,000 children per year are born “at risk” (1 in every 30)

  • 124,921 notifications were made to Child Youth and Family year end June 2010

  • Child Abuse costs NZ around $2 billion each year

  • Studies have found abused and neglected children to be at least 25 percent more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, low academic achievement, drug use and mental health problems

How can anyone look at those statistics, those facts and conclude that not only are we abusing our children but doing it in many different ways?

The overwhelming response to Deborah Coddington’s recent article 'Stop paying abusers to breed', makes it clear- something needs to be done, and fast.

The Ministry of Health is “responsible for compiling and publishing cause of death statistics for New Zealand”, yet information on death due to child abuse is not readily available; the comprehensive report I did find here had a COD (cause of death) label for fetal and infant death under “assault” – a bigger budget needs to be given to those government departments that are capable of doing the in-depth research needed- and a bigger budget to those who use those facts to find solutions to the problem.

For a start, reports like this one, shouldn’t be swept under the carpet- it makes valid recommendations and these should continue to be reported on in the media- so at the very least a conversation begins with the people who read it. 

There is an election coming up and it is clear there is definitely dissention in the ranks of New Zealanders who want our country to be safe for all our kids- not just the ones who lucked out with parents who love them.

We need to start making it crystal clear that if they want our vote, MP’s (as well as all of us) will have to stand up for kiwi kids - and mean it.

I’m a cynic at the best of times, but I have to believe my vote does count, and our MP’s have forums where we can be heard- find your MP here: start emailing.

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