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Study Release: NZ shamed by our child abuse record

The United Nations International Study on Violence Against Children which is released today in New York shows violence against children is endemic worldwide.

UNICEF, who part wrote the study, say New Zealand is shamed by our child abuse record

Today marks the release of the first United Nations international study on violence against children. The Study is a joint initiative, by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Much violence against children remains hidden and is often socially approved, according to the Study on Violence against Children presented today to the UN General Assembly. This is the first time a single document provides a comprehensive global view of the range and scale of violence against children.

Extreme violence against children may hit the headlines but the Study concludes that for many children violence is routine and a part of daily reality.

David Kenkel, the advocacy manager for UNICEF New Zealand, says: “The violence in this report mirrors New Zealand, far too many of our own children experience it. We do not do well by our children; our recent record of child deaths by abuse is shameful.”

The Study focuses on the nature and extent of violence against children in five settings: the home and family; schools and educational settings; other institutional settings such as orphanages, children in conflict with the law; in the workplace; and the community and on the streets. As the study makes obvious, violence against children is endemic.

Violence against children ranges from sexual abuse, violence and neglect in the home to bullying and humiliating corporal punishment at school; from the use of physical restraints in children’s homes to brutality at the hands of law enforcement officers; from abuse and neglect in institutions to gang warfare on the streets where children play or work; from infanticide to so-called ‘honour’ killing.

David Kenkel, goes on to say, “The strongest recommendation this new report makes is that countries need to put children at the forefront of policy. In New Zealand we need to start acting as if children really mattered rather than just mouthing the words.

”New Zealand still haven’t yet lived up to the promises we made to our children thirteen years ago when we signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children,” he continues.

“Recent initiatives like the task force on family violence are a good start but too often these kinds of things aren’t followed through. New Zealand’s children need more than good beginnings; they need commitment from government and community for the long term.”

Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the independent expert appointed by the Secretary-General to lead the Study says the best way to deal with violence against children is to stop it before it happens. He says, “Everyone has a role to play in this, but States must take the primary responsibility. That means prohibiting all kinds of violence against children, wherever it occurs and whoever is the perpetrator and investing in prevention programmes to address the underlying causes. People must be held accountable for their actions but a strong legal framework is not only about sanctions, it is about sending a robust, unequivocal signal that society just will not accept violence against children.”
New Zealand has nothing to be complacent about. In a UNICEF / INNOCENTI report written in 2005, New Zealand ranks 3rd worst out of 27 OECD countries in terms of children’s deaths from maltreatment. New Zealand has levels of child maltreatment deaths that are 4 to 6 times higher than the average for the leading countries.

It also shows that being indigenous significantly increases the likelihood of violence. Maori children are known to be significantly over-represented in poverty statistics and as the UN study predicts Maori children are twice as likely to be assessed as abused or neglected.

The study demonstrates the link between poverty and violence toward children. The UNICEF / INNOCENTI report on child poverty amongst 26 rich nations described New Zealand as being one of the five countries that have exceptionally high levels of child poverty. Amongst 26 OECD countries New Zealand ranked 4th worst in terms of children’s poverty.

What can make a difference? The UNICEF New Zealand submission to the United Nations study on violence against children stated:

"The extent to which reduction of violence to children is possible depends on the degree of priority and resource applied to efforts and the willingness of governments to take leadership on unpopular issues.

“As with other matters pertaining to children, change and significant reduction of violence will only come about when a society fully values its children, respects children's full human rights and makes children and families a priority in establishing policy and allocating resources."



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