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Spare A Thought This Christmas....

Muriel Newman Weekly Opinion Piece

Spare A Thought This Christmas....

Most of us will now be deep in preparation for Christmas. Christmas is a special time for most people. As well as being of traditional religious significance, Christmas is also a celebration of the family.

Most families that are able to gather together on Christmas day do so. However, growing numbers of New Zealand families are now spread far and wide not only around the country, but across the globe. While getting together may be impossible, many will share cards and presents.

In 1999, Lindsay Parks sent a Christmas card to his daughter, wishing her a merry Christmas and congratulating her for doing well at school. For his effort, he ended up in the district court. Last year a Wellington father also appeared in the district court for sending a Christmas present to his daughter. For both men, sending Christmas cards or presents to their children was a prohibited activity.

These men, like many thousands of other New Zealand men and women, have protection orders against them, preventing them from having contact with their children. Without a basic need for rigorous proof, many of those parents would claim that such orders were vexatious, brought by an aggrieved ex-partner seeking vengeance. Such protection orders often prevent grandmothers and grandfathers from spending time with their grandchildren as well.

Facts surrounding these issues are not well known, since it is the secret family court that deals with such matters. The only reason that we know about the plight of those two fathers is because breaching a protection order is a criminal offence, so it came under the jurisdiction of the district court, which of course is open.

It is the same with horrific cases of child abuse - it is only in a minority of child abuse cases that criminal charges are laid. Such cases, like the present one involving the brutal killing of the Wairarapa toddler 'Lillybing', are heard in the district court and full details are disclosed. Every day, however, similar cases, where a child is damaged but does not die, will be heard in the secret family court. Because the media are not able to report on such cases, the public remains uninformed with little appreciation of just how big the problem is. If we did know of the dreadful damage inflicted on children by adults, on a daily basis, there would be a growing momentum for change. People would demand that we get to get to the bottom of the problem, and look long and hard at policies that encourage family breakdown and dysfunction.

Over the weekend I read a report on a fascinating new book, Into the Arms of Strangers by Mark Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer. The book outlines stories about some of the 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria, who were sent off to Britain by their parents, rather than have them face the future under Hitler.

The report commented on the devastating scenes of farewells at stations where parents came face-to-face with the reality of separation. "Parents fainted and sobbed as children boarded the trains". Mothers and fathers who put their sons and daughters on the trains wrote of the unbelievable agony of sending children away.

What I have discovered this year, as a result of my work on shared parenting and family court openness, is some of that pain and heartbreak, too. I have received untold stories of children, torn away from parents and grandparents, by the family court. Such losses, carried out in peacetime in the name of justice and law, are arguably even more devastating than those perpetrated through warfare.

This Christmas, my heart goes out to the tens of thousands of families who are denied the joy of children, parents and grandparents all being together for one special day ... by the family court.

For those of you, like me, lucky enough to have your family together, we should be very thankful. For those separated by distance, we should be grateful for the part that modern telecommunications plays in bringing people around the world together.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and I would like say how much I appreciate you taking the time to read my column, for supporting me, and for sending your feedback. Best wishes to you and your family.

PS.. from Kath .... Muriel's hard work is being recognised in a national poll. Her championing of issues like shared parenting and Family Court openness is winning her much support in the Herald's New Zealand Man and Women of the Year award. With just under two weeks of voting left she is a definite contender for overall honours.

Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

View the archive of columns at http://www.act.org.nz/action/murielnewman.html

Visit ACT New Zealand's web site: http://www.act.org.nz


Muriel appreciates the opportunity to keep you informed and thanks you for your continued interest in ACT New Zealand.

If you are interested in the Shared Parenting Campaign you may like to visit the website for more information about the Citizens Initiated Referendum and the latest November UPDATE!! http://www.xoasis.com/~sharedparents/


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