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We Speak Too Little And Fail To Do Much

Thursday 5th Oct 2000
Donna Awatere Huata
Media Release – Education

In the early 1970’s I made a speech in which I said that I wanted a New Zealand where it is safe to be born a Maori child.

Firstly, a place where every child is wanted, and therefore more likely to be safe at home. And secondly, a place where no Maori child is subject to racial prejudice outside of their home. My support group decided not to perform my waiata for me because I had breached the unwritten code.

That code demands silence about the issues in Maoridom in which we feel our greatest sense of shame: child abuse, child neglect, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Instead, we are supposed to hide our outrage, shock and disbelief behind a cloak of denial.

Last year Titiwhai Harawira threatened to expose Nga Puhi leaders of sexual abuse if they did not allow her to take her place at Waitangi. The most shocking part of her threat, was in fact, the knowledge that she was shielding sex offenders and that they would have to give into her demands or she would ‘fess up’.

The Maori family is fragile. Often it is a solo mum who struggles to support her children on a benefit, with little hope of a prosperous future. The father of her children may come and go, and step partners may also come and go. Her hope must lie with her children. By the time her children leave school, we need to see that they are educated with an arsenal of powerful skills.

There is fat chance of this happening when Ministers, academics, ministry bureaucrats, principals and teachers collude to avoid setting standards and monitoring assessments, for all children. How can children be educated when bureaucrats collude in denying children, who could read if they were taught properly, by making a lot of pathetic excuses?

Parenting programmes can help get children to the school gate ready to learn, and intensive programmes like Family Start and Early Start can reduce the likelihood of child abuse. So why, you might ask, are these programmes not available for all families at risk? We know who these families are. And while there is no magic cure for this disturbing issue, these programmes have New Zealand-based research to show that they do make a difference.

The pittance given to these programmes is crazy.

It is forty years since the first reports of the battered child syndrome, and in that time more children have died from child abuse and neglect, than from AIDS or Hepatitis B, yet a mere pittance is committed to fighting the shocking abuse problem.

It is my belief that because this is not an issue for the white middle class, of which most politicians belong, Ministers and bureaucrats would rather put money into tertiary education, where at least they and their families will benefit.

Although we can not excuse the behaviour of those who abuse, it is a fact that far too many men and women who have been convicted for child abuse and murder, are poor, uneducated, lack self control, have a history of alcohol and drug abuse, and suffer from depression.

Asking the right questions and focusing on the right issues is the best chance we have in reducing the deaths of precious young lives. These questions need to radically focus on the importance of not having a baby until both parents are committed to each other. And why would-be parents need to have the emotional and financial resources to provide safety and security before they start their families.

Education is the only means by which people can be equipped with the life skills and confidence to achieve a rich and prosperous future.


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