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Do New Zealanders respect children?

Do New Zealanders respect children?

Today’s UNICEF forum “WHO DO WE ADULTS THINK WE ARE?” challenged New Zealand adults to live respect for children instead of just talking about it.

The four speakers, who are listed below, and young people who attended the forum described how New Zealander’s need to change the way they talk and think about Children and young people.

What emerged from the forum was a declaration that New Zealanders generally, and professionals in particular, need to start watching their language. People who care about the wellbeing of children and young people need to start following the feminist example of challenging disrespectful jokes and language that put women down, and start being strong about challenging ways of talking that are disrespectful of children as fellow human beings. Too often children are talked about dismissively as if their value lay in the adults they will become rather than the human beings they are now. The forum challenges adult New Zealanders to listen to themselves and to not just demand respect, but to give it too.

‘Children are often talked about and talked to in ways that are incredibly disrespectful’ says David Kenkel the UNICEF advocacy manager for New Zealand. He went on to add. ‘If you talked about any other group in society in the disparaging and dismissive way that children are so often talked about you’d face serious complaints.’ This is particularly true for teenagers, we demand respect from them but don’t always give respect in the ways we talk to them and about them. Think about what it must be like to be constantly described as a problem in media and conversation and to be viewed with suspicion when you and friends walk down the road just because of your age?’

When asked how to get adults and young people working together more effectively? A young woman of 16 replied succinctly:

‘Stop talking about us and them, we’re all us”

Dr Ian Hassall , New Zealand’s former commissioner for children described how children are loved and cherished in the private spheres of family life but that this attitude and way of talking doesn’t always cross over into the public sphere where too often children are described as if they were troublesome and burdensome. When a phrase like ‘they were no trouble’ is the best praise you can say in public about a child it says something about how the public sphere sees children as needing to be quiet deferential and obedient. Of course they can never conform to these expectations because they are human beings just like the rest of us.

Jo Raymond called for more respect for children from adults generally and across the board in the media citing positive examples of how New Zealand made children’s television is enormously respectful in how it treats children and how dedicated it is to listening to children. On the other hand, she also suggested that some advertising and other aspects of the media can exploit children in very disrespectful ways that disregard their health and wellbeing. She makes a strong call for the repeal of section 59 of the crimes act to improve the status of children in New Zealand.

‘We need to get more skilled at actually listening to young people’ asserted Marama Davidson from the Human rights commission, she went on to add: ‘there are often many barriers that stop young peoples voices being actually heard and acted on. This is particularly true for the young people we most need to listen to, such as those who are having troubles in their lives’

Ian Hyslop an experienced child protection worker asked New Zealander’s to think hard about how often children are used in abusive ways. Ian described how children often experience oppression in many aspects of their lives that are not always apparent to adults. He expressed the view that child abuse is inevitably connected to wider issues of child welfare which are in turn connected to issues of poverty and social disadvantage.


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