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Real Issues - No 211

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 211
29 June 2006





The nation has been transfixed this week by the tragic deaths of Chris and Cru Kahui. They join a long list of children

killed in this country, many by their own families. We are stunned by such evil, and we rush to find someone to blame: the family, the Plunket nurse, the social worker, the hospital, the fragmented state of government services. This family has fallen off the top of every cliff there is, and we want to know who was in charge of the fencing.

But as the politicians promise a cross-party working group and CYFS review their procedures, it is easy to lose track of a few things. The most important is that Chris and Cru were killed by a person, not a race, not a context, nor a system. There are many beneficiaries, many

poor, many unemployed, many alcoholics and many people from dysfunctional families of all races, who do not and will not kill their children. It is the perpetrator of this crime who is truly responsible.

No law can force people to be good, but the government can weaken or strengthen those things

which restrain, encourage and warn. It can set a context in which it is easy or hard to be good, in which it is easy or hard to abuse. Research has shown us many of the factors which set the context of abuse: family breakdown, the loss of biological connection, poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancy, educational failure, substance abuse and ill-health, to name a few. The government can examine what it is doing in those areas to strengthen families, remove rigid laws and promote good ones.

An individual's decision to obey the law is shaped by the family, community and culture to which they belong. The bonds of affection, shame and conscience which are forged by that culture restrain most of us. They snapped this time, for this family. When we ask who is responsible, and what we can do, it is helpful to remember that the government can only do so much to shape the environment in which a person lives. Bonds of affection and strength of character are built by neighbours and friends, by churches and sports clubs and schools, by families and community initiatives. If we want to make them stronger, perhaps we should begin there.


This week Parliament reaffirmed the importance of the mother-child bond by voting unanimously to send Sue Bradford's Private Members Bill to a select committee. The Bill would extend the time babies can remain with their mothers in prison from six months to two years. The Bill is timely as the number of female inmates is rising and 13 women in prison are about to give birth.

It is ironic that many of the parties who voted to support retaining the mother-child bond in prison are also willing to increase government funding for childcare, which recent research shows leads to lower levels of maternal attachment.

Research indicates that where a baby does not bond properly with its mother in the first 24 months, there is more likely to be higher levels of behavioural problems, increased insecurity, lower levels of social competence and higher levels of anxiety. The majority of this research is based on samples where infants less than 18 months old had poor quality bonds with their mothers or had been away from their mothers for a significant amount of time during the early months, for example, being in childcare for 20 hours or more per week.

The mother-child bond is important. Children's well-being and social adjustment is connected to how well they bond with their mothers in the early months of life. The flow-on effects of the maternal bond continue throughout life, lowering criminal activity and dysfunction in the next generation.

The research confirms what we know intuitively; that it is better for babies to be close to their mothers in their early years. Public policy needs to recognise this fact, not only for those in jail, but also for all walks of life.

To read the Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill, please visit:



Research findings reported at a UK conference this week suggest that the superiority of single-sex schooling is "a myth".

Alan Smithers, Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, claims that the success of single-sex schools is due to the selection of pupils, rather than the single-sex environment. "The girls' schools feature highly in the league tables because they are highly selective, their children come from particular social backgrounds and they have excellent teachers."

His conclusion comes as a challenge to supporters of single-sex education, who have often pointed out the success of boys' schools in addressing the "gender gap", and raising boys' achievement. Others suggest that single-sex education is about more than academic achievement. Passionate advocates for boys' education, such as author, Celia Lashlie, and Rector of Waitaki Boys' High School, Paul Baker, point to the unique environment of boys' schools, and the value of a tailored curriculum emphasising excellence, sport, competition, tradition and clear boundaries. Such an environment can and does produce well-rounded, stable and mature boys.

While the research continues, one thing is clear. Treating all children as if they are all the same is definitely not the way forward. The approach that makes one child flourish will make another yawn. Children are different, and if we are serious about addressing issues such as boys' achievement, we cannot afford to treat all children the same. We need a variety of approaches, and a variety of educational options for families to choose from. Unfortunately in New Zealand, too many families miss out on having these options.

Parents know their children best, their talents and their attitude, and what kind of education will fit them. Tailoring a variety of approaches to the variety of children is the way to a bright future, and single-sex schools have a vital part to play in that vision.

To read Paul Baker's speech on boys' education which was published in the New Zealand Herald, please visit:




Sex-selective abortion is currently banned in China, but plans to make it a crime were recently scrapped, according to Chinese state media. For every 119 boys born in China, there are 100 newborn girls. This imbalance has grown since the one-child-per-family policy was introduced 25 years ago. Traditional preference for boys was reinforced by the policy, and the gender imbalance remains a pressing issue. Ultrasound and other techniques have made it easier for families to know the sex of their baby early, and families often choose to abort baby girls.

The government had planned to crack down on sex-selective abortions in an effort to redress the balance, but could not agree on an amendment to the criminal law. Chinese newspapers cited experts saying that women had a right to know the sex of their baby. Add this "right" to a culture of both forced and voluntary abortions, and sex-selective abortion is likely to continue unabated.


Changes have been mooted to the Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill, which is designed to allow an employer and an employee to agree to a 90 day trial period before their relationship becomes permanent.

The Bill's sponsor, Dr Wayne Mapp MP, has sought to meet the concerns of unions and workers' rights advocates by proposing amendments to the Bill, such as a code of conduct which employers

would have to comply with during the probationary period and limiting the operation of the Bill to small employers. The Bill is currently being considered by a select committee, which is due to report back to Parliament by 14 September 2006.


"...the principles of democracy are realised in a specific context, and you have to bear in mind the Russian historical, economic and social situation." Mikhail Gorbachev, Former leader of the Soviet Union, (1931-)

Is Gorbachev right?

To read a UK Times article detailing Gorbachev's comments, please visit:



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Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action.

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