Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Removal of Māori children from their families is a wound

The state removal of Māori children from their families is a wound that won't heal – but there is a way forward

Claire Breen, University of Waikato

Too many New Zealand children are born into a state of crisis, as two recent and damning reports have shown.

The Maori Inquiry into Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children) was one of five inquiries launched after a media investigation into the attempted “uplift” of a newborn baby from its mother at a maternity ward in May 2019. The inquiry report stated:

The event … not only sparked national outrage from Māori, but disclosed a controversial and decades old state policy and practice that has had devastating intergenerational impacts that have left our communities with deep emotional scars.

Another report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner details the experiences of Māori mothers of newborns involved with Oranga Tamariki. Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft wrote:

These personal stories … are a silent testimony to the long-term inequities that Māori have suffered under Aotearoa New Zealand’s care and protection system.

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss hit back by saying the children’s commissioner’s report was ignoring the interests of babies.

The current storm rages, in part, around the protection of children and their rights. With the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care due to deliver its own interim report this year, we need to ask: what are those rights, and might a better understanding of them provide a way out of this impasse?

Children’s rights are linked to parents’ rights

Part of the answer can be found in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. Aotearoa-New Zealand accepted this treaty in 1993 and it informs the work of the children’s commissioner. For tamariki Māori, the convention is important because it was the first global human rights treaty to refer to the rights of indigenous children.

Read more:
Kindness doesn't begin at home: Jacinda Ardern's support for beneficiaries lags well behind Australia's

Perhaps controversially, the convention requires states to respect parents’ rights and responsibilities – and, where relevant, the extended family or community. This counters a common criticism that by focusing on children’s rights we diminish the rights of parents and families.

As far as possible, children have the right to know and be cared for by their parents. It is parents who have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of their children.

The convention also states that the family is “the fundamental group of society” and the child should grow up in a family environment. Cultural values are important for “the protection and harmonious development of the child”.

Most importantly in the current debate, the convention provides clear guidance on the removal of children from their families:

Each of these considerations is subject to four guiding principles:

Read more:
Australia needs to confront its history of white privilege to provide a level playing field for all

The forcible removal of children is covered by the UN

Alongside the children’s rights convention lies the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007, which Aotearoa-New Zealand endorsed in 2010. This specifically recognises the rights of indigenous families and communities to retain shared responsibility for the upbringing and well-being of their children. The exercise of that responsibility is to be consistent with the rights of the child.

The declaration also prohibits the forcible removal of children from one group to another. While this has tended to relate to historic state policies to remove indigenous children from their communities, it clearly resonates with recent events.

The declaration also states that the economic and social conditions of children must be improved. Notably, states must protect children from all forms of violence and discrimination. These considerations overlap with the declaration’s wider objectives, such as the right to self-determination, the right to self-government and the importance of free, prior and informed consent on matters that affect indigenous people.

At the heart of these documents is a simple message: children have rights. The best interests of the child must inform any decision that affects those rights. And the decision must be made in an impartial and transparent manner.

Future reports will inevitably catalogue further violations of children’s rights. Identifying these violations is one thing; strategies to ensure they do not happen again are another. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must play a central role.

Claire Breen, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Gordon Campbell: On The Media Collusion With National’s Attack Lines

For most of the past week, any consumer of this country’s management of Covid-19 would think New Zealand was actually Brazil, or Texas. The media language has been full of claims of “botches” at the border, and laxness and inexcusable errors ... More>>

Gregor Thompson: Don’t Be Too Pessimistic About New Zealand’s Future.

With the first hurdle hopped our Government will be turning its attention to trying to soften the economic damage this pandemic has on our little archipelago. More>>

Eric Zuesse: U.S. Empire: Biden And Kerry Gave Orders To Ukraine’s President

Eric Zuesse, originally posted at Strategic Culture On May 19th, an implicit international political warning was issued, but it wasn’t issued between countries; it was issued between allied versus opposed factions within each of two countries: U.S. and Ukraine. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Budget Cockups In The Time Of Coronavirus: Reporting Errors And Australia’s JobKeeper Scheme

Hell has, in its raging fires, ringside seats for those who like their spreadsheets. The seating, already peopled by those from human resources, white collar criminals and accountants, becomes toastier for those who make errors with those spreadsheets. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Welcome Deaths: Coronavirus And The Open Plan Office

For anybody familiar with that gruesome manifestation of the modern work place, namely the open plan office, the advent of coronavirus might be something of a relief. The prospects for infection in such spaces is simply too great. You are at risk from ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Why Thinking Makes It So: Donald Trump’s Obamagate Fixation

The “gate” suffix has been wearing thin since the break-in scandal that gave it its birth. Since Watergate, virtually anything dubious and suggestive, and much more besides, is suffixed. Which brings us to the issue of President Donald Trump’s ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Brutal Choices: Anders Tegnell And Sweden’s Herd Immunity Goal

If the title of epidemiological czar were to be created, its first occupant would have to be Sweden’s Anders Tegnell. He has held sway in the face of sceptics and concern that his “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 is a dangerous, and breathtakingly ... More>>