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Social Security Bill’s ECE Obligations Breach Human Rights

Social Security Bill’s ECE Obligations Breach Human Rights

October 17, 2012

Palmerston North, NZ – Many New Zealanders are concerned that the new Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill will violate human rights.

The Home Education Foundation (HEF) of New Zealand is trying to raise awareness of the serious human rights implications of the bill. Under the bill, early childhood education (ECE) will be made compulsory for all children of beneficiaries from age 3 to when they start school at 5 or 6.

“Hundreds of parents have contacted me over the last few weeks really concerned about this new policy,” says HEF National Director Barbara Smith. “The Bill will compel them to leave their children in ECE for at least 15 hours per week, but they want to continue learning at home with their children.”

Mrs Smith cites research showing that children do better at home building quality relationships with their parents and siblings. “Dr Sarah Farquhar, a New Zealand academic, says that the family has a much greater impact on a child’s achievements than Early Childhood Education. Papers published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry have shown that more cognitive demands are placed on four-year- olds at home by mothers than at preschool by teachers, and that significantly more complex language is used at home by parents and children than at school by teachers and children.

“ECE really only benefits the few children who are suffering from neglect at home. By making ECE compulsory for all the children of beneficiaries, the government will actually force huge numbers of children away from the optimal environment—learning at home—into substandard education.

“Shouldn’t this legislation be trying to help beneficiaries make good decisions, not forcing them into an educational model most of them don’t need?”

Under the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 26 (3), “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Other UN conventions further entrench this right: Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires signatories “to have respect for the liberty of parents ... to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

According to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, the NZ government has ratified both these treaties and is “taking progressive steps towards achieving them.”

But organisations like the Home Education Foundation believe that the Social Security Bill will breach this universal human right.

“Learning at home is a legitimate choice which every parent, even a beneficiary, should have the right to choose,” says Mrs Smith. “And no child should be forced to part from his or her parent for 15 hours per week.”

Mrs Smith shares some of the comments made in the submissions of single parents. One mother says, “We came out of a bad situation; I have kept my children safe and now I am being punished by not having the same rights as a mother not receiving a benefit.” She fears that other women will be reluctant to leave unsafe relationships if it means losing the right to be with their children.

Other mothers are concerned about their families’ futures. “I need some assurance that if my husband does lose his job and we end up on a benefit that we will not be subjected to harsh measures and coercive tactics,” says another.

One mother, abused in state care as a child, said “The thought of making a choice between leaving my children with strangers or being homeless by ‘benefit sanctions’ makes me feel physically ill.”

Mrs Smith argues that if parents know that ECE is available, they will make use of it if they want it. “But the Social Security Bill makes no provision for the parents who simply want the right to refuse.

“It’s an unacceptable breach of parental rights.”

Sumissions on the Social Security Bill are due 1 November 2012. For help in making a submission, visit hef.org.nz.


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