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Child Abuse In New Zealand: How Can We Root It Out?

It is headline news that is becoming chillingly familiar. Sofia Taueki-Jackson died from a non-accidental catastrophic head injury at her home on May 23rd this year. She was only 14 months old and her close family members are refusing to co-operate with the police.

Refusing to co-operate with authorities when a child has been murdered in order to protect family members is sickening. As long as people hide the truth then this kind of abuse and murder of children in NZ will flourish.

But the issue is much more complicated than blaming dysfunctional parenting and family dynamics. Child abuse is more likely to happen in societies with high levels of social inequality.

Intentional maltreatment death rates more than doubled in New Zealand in the 1980s - co-incidentally the same decade that neo-liberal economic policies were rolled out. The focus on neoliberal policies is on economic growth, with the idea that the 'trickle down' effect will lift all people.

It doesn't quite work like that. Since the 1980s we have had increasing levels of social inequality, child poverty and child abuse and deaths. Correlation is not necessarily causation, but in this case research demonstrates a strong link between social inequality and abuse.

In 1999 after James Whakaruru was killed we said 'never again, not one more child’. Young 4-year-old James was beaten so badly by his mother's boyfriend Benny Haerewa that the only part of his body not covered in bruises were the soles of his feet. He had ruptured intestines and a broken arm. He died from one or several prolonged beatings. Sometimes he was beaten with a jug cord or vacuum cleaner pipe.

That was over 20 years ago. A whole generation of humans. If James was alive he would now be a young adult. And sadly, he was not the last child in New Zealand to be killed at the hands of his family.

And so the pattern of abuse and silence continues.

Delcelia Witika, Cris and Cru Kahui, Nia Glassie, Craig Manukau and Moko Rangitoheriri are high profile child abuse and murder cases in New Zealand since the 1990s. But there have been many others.

Ten-year-old Craig Henry James Manukau was the little boy who wanted to dance in a class concert. He was only 11 when he was kicked to death by his father. Neighbors remember that the family had no furniture and the family were given clothes and food from the Church. They also remember hearing the parents yelling ‘shut your f***n’ mouth’ when the children were crying.

Craig was reportedly a sad figure in the lead up to his death. The week before he asked a teacher if he could dance in a class concert. He was told he would have to wait until the class had a concert.

He said, “I want to dance”. He never would.

His story is tragically poignant and sad. And it is only one of many.

In 2000 Hinewaioriki Karaitiana-Matiaha (Lillybing) died from a brain injury caused by violent shaking at the hands of her aunt Rachealle Namana . She had a burn to her forehead from a boiling cloth being placed on a bruise after falling. Before her death Lillybing had internal bruising from a violent vaginal assault. She had been assaulted by Namana and her sister Rongomai Paewai who refused to get medical help for their 23-month-old niece.

These stories are harrowing and highlight the depravity of families who opt to protect the abusers in their midst who have killed a child.

In the last two years alone there have been several horrifying cases. Last year 12 children died in suspicious circumstances.

In February 2019 a 4-week-old baby died due to non-accidental brain injury and bleeding on her brain in Kaitaia. The tiny baby also had bruises on one arm and one thigh. Her name wass Maree Ngahere. Her father Jahcey Ngahere, 23, admitted causing her death

The same month a 5-month-old baby was killed in a house in Motueka. She was killed by her mother who was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Again in 2019 there was the suspicious death of 2-year-old Nevaeh Ager in Maketu. She was found dead on the tidal flats in Little Waihi. It was treated as a homicide and police have charged a man with her murder.

Child murders and abuse in 2020 has been steady. In January this year a 4-year-old boy was bashed so badly that part of his brain died. He received a continued beating over several days. Many who were present at the house would have seen this beating and they refused to co-operate with police.

Shortly after this grim abuse case a five-year-old boy was killed on Saturday, 8th February 2020. His name was Ferro-James Sio. He was killed by his 24-year-old father who had previously been charged with assaulting his son.

On September 6, 2020, a ten-month-old was killed in Manurewa and police have launched a homicide investigation.

New Zealand has one of the worst records of child abuse in the developed world. There are 14,000 "substantiated findings" of child abuse every year in New Zealand. Police respond to a domestic call out every seven minutes. One child dies every five weeks in New Zealand.

In 2016 a New Zealand roll of dishonor was published of the names of 61 children who died from non-accidental injuries in the previous ten years. 31 of the children had been violently assaulted with punching , kicking, stomping, thrown or bashed to the point of death.

New Zealand also has the highest rate of teen suicide in the OECD.

So where exactly do we go from here?

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