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New Zealand Is Letting Children Down - UNICEF

New Zealand Is Letting Children Down - UNICEF

New Zealand child domestic violence policy is under resourced, ad hoc and small scale says UNICEF NZ in a report launched today with The Body Shop

Today UNICEF in partnership with The Body Shop released an international report on the impact of Domestic Violence on Children. Alongside this report UNICEF New Zealand releases a national report which shows that up until now New Zealand’s policy initiatives have sorely let children down.

The reports highlight that behind the doors of thousands of what may appear to be safe and happy New Zealand homes children are living in a frightening world of adult violence.

The statistics revealed by these reports indicate that domestic violence is so common that most New Zealanders will personally know a child who’s witnessing violence in their own home.

Research indicates that unless we act now against family violence; that amongst the generation currently under fifteen, up to 200,000 are likely to witness partner violence before they become adults.

Exposure to too much trauma at an early age is now understood to harm children not just emotionally or socially but also to literally damage the physical way their brains grow.

Children who frequently witness domestic violence are usually isolated and often don’t perform well at school or in social relationships. As they get older they are more likely to take dangerous risks, abuse drugs and alcohol, get in trouble with the law and become perpetrators or victims of domestic violence themselves.

Children who witness domestic violence are the invisible victims and until relatively recently there was little acknowledgement of the harmful effects on children of witnessing violence. What is now known is that unless they are asked, children generally don’t talk about their experiences of violence. Small shoulders carry adult size burdens of fear and sadness without support or acknowledgement.

What the reports make clear is that to make a difference to the many thousands of suffering New Zealand children, our society needs to change the attitude that holds domestic violence to be somebody else’s problem. We also need to put in resources for the long haul, both to help children who have been affected by violence and to make the future violence free. The new initiatives described last week by

‘The Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families’ make strong promises about making a real difference; New Zealand’s children desperately need these promises to come true in the long haul.

The author of New Zealand’s report, Beth Wood, says “There are now a number of policy initiatives aimed at better attending to the needs of children living with domestic violence, many of these are recent initiatives, of small scale, not part of an integrated plan and as yet not fully implemented or evaluated.

“Are the resources in place to follow through on the needs these initiatives will uncover? Is New Zealand doing enough? Indications are that the answer to these questions is no.

Our past performance as a country has been dismal. To make a difference to those children who have been hurt by violence and to those many thousands who are still threatened with violence we will all need to do better in the future.

The Body Shop welcomes the release of the reports, Barrie Thomas – Director of The Body Shop New Zealand says “We are very pleased to have sponsored these reports that challenge us all to make a difference in the lives of children. Violence and fear don’t belong in children’s lives and have no place in the life of a healthy family. We are committed to supporting community initiatives to grow safer communities that allow the wellbeing of all families and children.

Thomas concludes.Dennis McKinlay the executive director of UNICEF New Zealand’s says “These reports show that domestic violence is an endemic blight that harms New Zealand children and does so across all socio-economic and ethnic boundaries. Given the appalling truth of how we don’t listen to the most vulnerable amongst us, perhaps we should be too ashamed to talk about New Zealand as a great place to bring up children.

“As the reports make apparent, to make a difference in these children’s lives; there are a range of initiatives needed to both prevent violence and change the culture that thinks this is acceptable behaviour. Short term anger and hand wringing will not be sufficient to provide these children the opportunity to be productive citizens of the future and contribute to society rather than be at risk of repeating the cycle of violence.” McKinlay concludes.


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