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Smoking during pregnancy: Maori child abuse

Media release

16 October 2006

Smoking during pregnancy: another form of child Maori abuse

Smoking during pregnancy, or smoking around a pregnant women is yet another form of child abuse, the Maori Heart Foundation Te Hotu Manawa Maori (THMM) said today.

“Around half our women smoke and research tells us that, almost all continue to smoke during pregnancy, What’s worse is that a pregnant women may quit smoking during pregnancy, her whanau may continue to smoke exposing her to the dangers of second hand smoke” THMM CEO Mary McCulloch said.

“The impact on our children and babies is terrible. Smoking accounts for higher rates of asthma, burns and fire deaths, childhood cancer, pneumonia, and developmental delay.”

In 1996 Sudden Infant Death (SIDS) rates for Maori were around five times higher than that of non-Maori. Forty six percent of Maori SIDS deaths were attributable to smoking .

“As an organisation, we’ve looked at the definitions of child abuse, and there’s no doubt in our mind that smoking during pregnancy, and smoking around your children constitutes physical abuse”.


Smoking during pregnancy: another form of Maori child abuse

When we look at legal and policy guidelines, it’s very clear that smoking during pregnancy is abusive to children.

Defining Child Abuse

Child Abuse means the harming (whether physically, emotionally or sexually) ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation of any child or young person.

Section 2, Children, Young Persons Amendment Act, 1994.

Physical Abuse is any act or acts that result in inflicted injury to a child or young person. It may include, but is not restricted to:
- Bruises and welts
- Cuts and abrasions
- Fractures and sprains
- Abdominal injuries
- Injuries to internal organs
- Strangulation or suffocation
- Poisoning
- Burns or scalds

Such injury may be deliberately inflicted or the unintentional result of rage. Regardless of motivation, the result for the child is physical abuse.

An Interagency Guide to Breaking the Cycle: let’s stop child abuse together: Child, Youth and Family, June 2002

Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of:

Retarded foetal growth
- Low birth-weight
- Perinatal mortality
- Respiratory illness
- Burn and fire deaths
- Childhood cancer
- Cleft palates and cleft lips
- Depression
- Hyperactivity
- Glue ear
- Pneumonia
- Reading and learning difficulties
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

In 1996 the Maori SIDS rate was around five times higher than that of non-Maori, and forty six percent of Maori SIDS deaths were attributable to smoking.

Cnattingus, 2004; Cornelius et al, 200; Fore et al, 2000; Hutchison et al,1996; Pomare et al, 195; Benowitz &Dempsey, 2004

Even-though we are focusing on smoking during pregnancy, smoking around children results in the same kind of damage.

Smoking during pregnancy: another form of Maori child abuse

Questions and answers

Is it really child abuse? Aren’t you exaggerating?

When we look at the legal definition of child abuse there’s no doubt in our mind that it constitutes child abuse. Research clearly shows that smoking results in physical injury to a child. It’s about adults inflicting injury on babies and children.

In the case of smoking, parents can make a choice to keep their children safe. If you smoke during pregnancy or around your children, you will injure them

Why are you taking such a hard hitting approach?

This is a major issue for our people. It’s time to stop beating round the bush, and call it what it is. We’ve talked to other Maori professionals and they agree with us. It’s about naming the problem, and working with our people to bring smoking rates down.

Aren’t you running the risk of demonising Maori parents, of making them feel guilty?

We’re taking this approach because we care about our people, and we want them to live longer. We’re doing this because we feel compassion for our children. Like any issue we believe that exposing the problem, getting people to talk about it: and working on solutions.

So what are the solutions?

Ultimately the solution is to stamp out smoking amongst Maori.

In terms of what we’re doing now, we’re going to take a staggered approach. First of all we’re getting people to talk about it, then we’ll work with whanau and other agencies to bring our smoking rates down: or at the very least get our whanau to stop smoking during pregnancy and round their children.

Who’s responsibility is this?

It’s everyone’s responsibility, and we all have a role to play to keep our children safe from abuse. Whanau should be safe places for children, but they need information so they can make good choices. That’s why we raising the issue in this way.


© Scoop Media

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