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Real Issues No. 305 – Abortion, Juvenile Crime

Real Issues No. 305 – Abortion, Juvenile Crime,

Education Maxim Institute - real issues –

No. 305 12 June 2008 www.maxim.org.nz

Abortion Supervisory Committee criticised by High Court Responding to juvenile crime 'Schools Plus' submission

IN THE NEWS Public debate: A land fit for criminals? Head-scarves ruled 'illegal' in Turkey


A telling judgement from the High Court was delivered this week, finding that the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) has 'misinterpreted its functions and powers under the abortion law,' and that 'there is reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions' in New Zealand.

The ASC was established to oversee abortions in New Zealand, to 'review all the provisions of the abortion law, and the operation and effect of those provisions in practice.' Right to Life, a pro-life charity, has taken the ASC to Court alleging they have been failing to fulfil their duties and to ensure the law is being interpreted as intended. Under New Zealand law an abortion is illegal unless it takes place with the authorisation of two certifying consultants, who have a limited number of grounds on which to grant approval. The most commonly cited ground is that the pregnancy would result in a serious risk to the mental health of the mother. In 2006 17,732 abortions, 98.9 percent of all abortions, were performed on this ground.

Justice Miller, the Judge hearing the case, agreed that at the moment in New Zealand we seem to effectively have abortion on demand, with figures showing that some certifying consultants decline very few or no abortions whatsoever. Justice Miller found that the ASC were wrong in their interpretation of the law that they had no power to 'review or scrutinise' decisions made by consultants, and that this is in fact one of their functions. While Right to Life's argument that an unborn child should have a legal right to life was not upheld, Justice Miller held that our abortion laws show that 'the unborn child has a claim on the conscience of the community.'

Although this judgement shows that our abortion laws are being abused, and that practice is being inadequately supervised, Justice Miller has not required the ASC to take any particular action, but is still deciding whether he will make a declaration on the situation. It is shameful that there is such flagrant disregard for the law, especially one that impacts -- and ends -- the lives of so many of our citizens.

Read Justice Miller's judgement http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/RIGHT%20TO%20LIFE%20NZ%20INC%20(JUDGMENT S%20TEMPLATE)_JTK_712_000.pdf


The teenage years are often messy, mistakes are made, lessons are learnt and sometimes there are scars to show for it. The problem of raising good and healthy young people is an ongoing challenge for every nation. The question of how to prevent youth from committing crime and how to respond when they do, has received focus in Britain this week after a report was given to the United Nations, by the UK's Children's Commissioners. The report raises a range of issues including Britain's approach to juvenile justice, stating that they imprison more of their under-eighteens than any other EU country. It suggests that juvenile justice should give more credence to the needs and welfare of the children involved.

The report identifies that in the UK 'between 2002 and 2006, crime committed by children fell, yet during the same period, it is estimated that there was a 26 per cent increase in the number of children criminalised and prosecuted.' The concern expressed in the report is that this approach is leading to an increasing criminalisation of children, with people entering the juvenile justice system at progressively younger ages. As children enter the juvenile justice system they then spend some of their most formative years in impersonal institutions where their education and socialisation become increasingly warped. According to the report, alongside this growing population of children in prison is the marginalisation of children -- who feel that they are poorly represented in the media and are a part of a society that does not value them or their needs.

The report though fails to show balance. It tilts too far towards an emphasis on the rights of children. The reality is that in dealing with children who have committed crime, the damage their actions have done to society must be a consideration in how they are dealt with. Both the health and needs of children as well as the concern about their behaviour and its impact on society must be argued for. The problem with the debate this report is engaged in is that it is polarising discussions between those defending child rights and those who want a tough stance on crime. The truth is that the debate is more complex than either of these perspectives suggest. The question that remains unanswered is what is causing the participation of children in crime and what are the most effective ways of dealing with the young people involved: prisons, mental health treatment or other measures?

Young people need boundaries and consequences -- the responsibility of living with the choices they make -- but they also need to be treated appropriately. Criminalisation of children as a pattern of response does not nurture or support them through tough years, but instead further estranges them from a society they are learning to be part of. If we can find ways to help children who commit crime to feel part of society then perhaps we can steer them in a direction where they spend their lives as positive contributing members, rather than ending up as hardened criminals causing havoc.

Read the UK Children's Commissioners' Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child http://www.11million.org.uk/resource/31f7xsa2gjgfc3l9t808qfsi.pdf


Submissions have recently closed on the proposed Government policy to make it compulsory for all young people to be in some form of education or training until they are eighteen. The policy, called 'Schools Plus,' aims to see more young people 'participating in education or workplace training and more students gaining higher qualifications.'

It is clear from Ministry of Education figures that there is a need to address the issue of low educational achievement of many of our young people. For example, 30 percent of pupils leave school by the age of seventeen and 40 percent of pupils leave without gaining NCEA Level 2. Worryingly, approximately 14,000 pupils leave without even achieving NCEA Level 1.

However, the compulsory nature of 'Schools Plus' and the requirement that every young person, regardless of their circumstances, remains in some kind of formal education until they are eighteen is problematic. While many young people may benefit from this requirement, there will always be some for whom this requirement will not be appropriate. When it comes to educating our young people, one size never fits all.

Research indicates that making education or training compulsory is not likely to lead to better motivation, and therefore engagement with learning. The impact of disruptive pupils on the learning and motivation of other pupils should also be taken into account, as should the safety and orderliness of the school environment which also affects pupils' engagement.

The problems of pupil engagement and educational underachievement that 'Schools Plus' is designed to address, could be better solved by giving schools more freedom and flexibility to meet the needs of children who are at risk of leaving school with low levels of literacy and numeracy and badly equipped for further education, training or work. To this end, a greater focus on standards, both for pupils and for teachers, combined with greater flexibility for schools, will yield far greater results than simply making it mandatory for all pupils to stay in some kind of education until they are eighteen.

Read Maxim Institute's submission on Schools Plus http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/submission_schools_plus.pdf



Would imprisoning more people for longer make our society safer? Is it possible for offenders to reform? Are we doing enough to support victims of crime? Come and hear four high profile criminal justice experts discuss these and other questions and take the opportunity to put your questions to the panel. Maxim Institute is helping to organise this debate which will be held at Auckland Grammar School in Auckland on 26 June at 7.30pm.

Read more about this event http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/a_land_fit_for_criminals.pdf


Diverse groups in Turkey continue to spar over the issue of Islamic headscarves on university campuses. The issue is reflective of deeper philosophical and religious questions facing the nation -- a secular state with a secularist constitution, whose current government is pro-Islamic. The ruling party in Turkey, named the Justice and Development Party (AKP), amended the constitution in February to allow women to wear headscarves at universities. This week the highest court in the country decided that the government's decision was unlawful as it violates the secularism that is the foundation of Turkey's constitution. Throughout Turkey women who wish to wear scarves have been protesting, while the nation's chief prosecutor now seeks to depose the AKP for its alleged anti-secular behaviour.


'The abortion law certainly asserts a state interest in protecting the unborn child, and not merely an interest in ensuring that women may have safe and legal abortions.'

Justice Miller, June 2008

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