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Celebrating Families 1 July 2004

Thu, 1 July 2004

Judith Collins July 2004
National Party Family Spokesperson

The Care of Children Bill does include some improvements over the Guardianship Act, 1968 but there are parts of the bill that represent significant negative outcomes for the family. The Care of Children Bill is just another example of some positive initiatives coupled with and obscured by a social engineering agenda. The bill doesn't seem to live up to its name.

Parental rights and responsibilities Unfortunately the bill does little to define parental rights and responsibilities. Under the guise of children's rights, the bill uses politically correct concepts that have little connection to the experience of parenting.

The bill is a further eroding of parental rights and responsibilities. The proposed changes enable a parent to appoint a guardian or a short-term (1 year) partner of that parent simply by completing a form and registering with the court registrar. It is good to see that a prospective extra guardian will have to front up with a copy of their criminal convictions. However, experience tells us that the worst sort of criminals are often highly manipulative. By making the decision to appoint a guardian simply that of a parent, the bill has removed the requirement for a full hearing with evidence, cross-examination and the scrutiny of judges. The changes make light of the responsibilities of a legal guardian.

Custody The universally understood term of custody is to be replaced with the term "day to day care". What is there to differentiate between the "day to day care" of a boarding school and the "day to day care" of parents? The change in terminology is clearly to remove any concept of parental ownership of children. In my opinion, parents have rights over their minor children as well as duties and I believe that it is a responsibility of parents to exercise those rights.

Evidence in Family Court. I am very pleased that there is to be considerable improvement in the openness of the Family Court. I believe that the Family Court judges, particularly Judge Boshier, the Principal Family Court Judge, need to be congratulated for their willingness to understand that the people most benefitting from the current secrecy provision are not the children. I see no benefit to children in allowing professionals associated with cases or parents, the ability to hide negligence, gross incompetence or poor resourcing behind the shield of children. I will be seeking an amendment to make clear that professionals will not be able to hide behind the rule protecting names of children, parents and those associated with the cases.

The Nick Smith case now seems a little ironic. Last year he was prosecuted for contempt of court and highlighted issues with the Family Court. Parliament has now accepted that these issues need to be reformed.

Parental right to know about abortion It concerns me that a female child can, whatever her age, consent to an abortion without the knowledge of her parents. I am aware that this provision is a restatement of an existing section in the Guardianship Act. However, this provision needs amendment to provide that such a procedure would require the knowledge of a parent or guardian except where a Family Court Judge decides otherwise. The requirement for parental notification is the law in some US states. The non-notification of parents can be used as a shield by abusers of young girls and leaves young girls without support at a particularly vulnerable and difficult time of their lives. Parents are forced to pick up the pieces without knowing the facts involved. Concern over pregnancy as a result of incest was cited by some proponents as justification of the existing non-notification provisions. However, that argument means that these girls are being sent back into abusive homes without their mother or a judge even being told. Under the guise of a child's privacy, the perpetrators of sex abuse are able to continue that abuse certain that they won't get found out. It is interesting to note that statistics from the Abortion Supervisory Committee indicate that incest was cited in 1 in every 7,500 New Zealand abortions between 1986 and 2002.

In those few cases when it is not in the girl's best interest to disclose to a parent that she is pregnant, a judicial bypass would give the girl the option to seek a court determination on whether it is in her best interests to notify a parent.

Evidence from those US states that have introduced parental notification laws has shown a decrease not only in the number of under-age abortions but also in the number of under-age pregnancies.

Diversity

This bill proceeds on the basis that a traditional nuclear family model does not reflect the diversity of family arrangements. I believe that irrespective of what arrangements parents make, the reality is that every child has the right to his or her parents and that parents have the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. Those rights and responsibilities should only be removed by order of the Court in exceptional circumstances.


ENDS

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