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UN report highlights concerns about NZ Children

UN report highlights substantial concerns about New Zealand children

A United Nations report released this weekend highlights substantial and wide-ranging concerns about New Zealand children and young people.

In the report to the New Zealand Government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child looks at this country's progress in implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child. New Zealand ratified the Convention ten years ago.

Recommendations from the UN Committee include:

· Act on the previous recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1997.

· Bring all legislation into line with the Convention. This includes the rights of children to have their views taken into account in accordance with their age and maturity, extending the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act to cover 17 year olds, and legal protection for young workers.

a.. Fund, co-ordinate and implement the Government's Agenda for Children, Youth Development Strategy, Child Health Strategy, and the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

b.. Prioritise children in the government budget, especially poor children.

c.. Assess the impact of all economic policies on children and young people.

d.. Educate the general public, children and youth, and all professionals working with children and young people about the Convention.

e.. Take comprehensive action to eliminate discrimination on any grounds and against all vulnerable groups of children and young people.

f.. Expand and strengthen care and protection services and increase their resources.

g.. Change the law to prohibit corporal punishment.

h.. Strengthen public education and other activities to promote positive non-violent forms of discipline.

i.. Improve the health of children and young people by taking action to increase immunisation and preventive health care; to reduce infant deaths, injuries, youth suicide, teenage pregnancies, and alcohol consumption by young people; to strengthen mental health and counselling services; and to address the disparities between ethnic groups and in particular Maori.

j.. Increase the accessibility of counselling for children and young people.

k.. Assist parents and caregivers so that all children can have an adequate standard of living.

l.. Ensure all children in New Zealand - including non-resident children - are covered by the protection of the Convention.

m.. Ensure access to education for all children, including those with special needs.

n.. Ensure that the juvenile justice system complies with the Convention and other international standards.

· The UN Committee also reviewed New Zealand's progress in implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on children in armed conflict. It recommends amending the law to make the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces 17 years or older.

Chairperson of Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA) Dr Alison Blaiklock says the Committee is clearly very worried about what is happening in New Zealand.

"Committee members have confirmed the concerns of ordinary New Zealanders and people who work with children and young people. The report is written in UN diplomatic language but only includes two paragraphs of positive comments - and, in contrast, there are twenty-four paragraphs expressing concerns and regrets at the situation."

The UN Committee, which is made up of 18 international experts, received information from the Government and ACYA, and. saw a video made by children and young people with the support of ACYA. The Committee met ACYA delegates in June and Government delegates in September.

12-year old Zarah Allport contributed to the video and met the UN Committee.

"I am really glad with what has come out and that they listened to what we said in the video. Their recommendations have picked up on what young people told them."

ACYA representative Riripeti Haretuku met the UN Committee in June and observed the meeting between the UN Committee and the New Zealand Government delegates in September. She says it was clear at the meeting with the Government that the Committee is concerned about New Zealand.

"They consistently raised issues of poverty, violence against children, discrimination, participation, and the situation of Maori children."

Dr Blaiklock says the UN Committee has made many constructive, detailed and practical recommendations. She says the Committee has emphasised the importance of the Government effectively co-ordinating and actually properly funding and getting on with implementing the Government's Agenda for Children, Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa, New Zealand Disability Strategy and the Child Health Strategy.

"These are great strategies - but unless they are put into action they are just beautiful bits of paper. The challenge to the Government is to respond to the UN's constructive approach." Dr Blaiklock says.

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