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Youth Justice Demerit Points Bill A Breach Of Children’s Rights

Save the Children New Zealand calls for “punitive” Bill not to progress

Leading child’s rights organisation Save the Children New Zealand is calling for politicians to throw out the proposed Oranga Tamariki (Youth Justice Demerit Points) Amendment Bill, saying it fails to recognise children’s rights with its “punitive punishment-focused” approach to child and youth offending.

In its written submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee considering the Bill, Save the Children states that, if passed, the Bill is likely to “significantly and negatively impact on children’s rights and will not meet New Zealand’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

“The proposed Demerit Points system fails to align with or give value to the implementation of a holistic child justice system that promotes and protects children’s rights and is known to support children away from further offending,” the submission states.

“Children’s rights have not been specifically referenced in this Bill nor in the reasoning of the Member [Darroch Ball] who introduced this Bill to Parliament. At the most basic level, the Bill does not recognise that it is directly aimed at children – persons up to 18 years of age as defined by the Convention.”

Other concerns highlighted in the submission include:

  • Failure of the Bill to recognise or incorporate the rights accorded to tamariki and rangatahi Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • The Bill is not informed by the voices of the very children the Bill refers to, their family and wider whānau, nor the experts working at the front line of youth justice, and doesn’t take into account the robust evidence on child and adolescent development, criminal justice systems, developmental crime prevention, or include evidence-based solutions on prevention of child or youth offending or reoffending
  • The Bill seeks to over-simplify the youth justice system without accounting for the complex drivers that contribute to such offending and has the potential to stigmatise and criminalise children through court appearances and formal criminal records.

“The proposed legislation fails to recognise the effectiveness of the current youth justice systems. While not perfect, our current system works hard and draws on a number of evidence-based interventions such as restorative justice to steer children away from further offending,” says Save the Children New Zealand’s Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey.

“The Bill appears to be based on a limited data set that does not accurately reflect the full extent of the Youth Justice system and drivers for child offending. One size doesn’t fit all – many of our tamariki and rangatahi who end up in the youth justice system have come from tragic backgrounds which has led to their offending. The proposed changes seek to remove the very individualised approach that is currently applied and validated by international evidence to reduce the rates of re-offending.

“If New Zealand is to seriously reduce rates of children in the justice system, the interventions need to begin in their earliest years of life to ensure their parents and whanau have the information, support and resources they need so that every child can grow and develop in positive, safe and nurturing environments.”

Written submissions on the Bill closed this week.

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