He heard the tiny voices – yours too
At last. Someone in the Beehive has heard the “tiny voices from the grave”, the dead children this column posthumously quoted as begging for action to save the lives of other children in danger of horrific deaths like theirs.
Heard too the tearful, the angry, the frustrated voices of the living – parents and others – who reacted so strongly.
Asked to respond to those columns, Minister of Justice Simon Power has given the first clear statement of intent in the 26 years I’ve campaigned for this cause. At last, we have a personal pledge and a promise from a government.
And not the-hearse-andlittleof the past, but recognition that violence against our children demands social reform.
“The hardest job lies ahead – that of breaking the cycleofmindset that allows people to treat children in such horrific ways instead of treasuring them,” says Simon Power.
Also on the way: On-thespot orders to protect vulnerable family members from further violence until the courts are able to deal with the matter. This will make homes safer by removing aggressors. • The minister’s response to “tiny voices from the grave”:
The National-led government has listened to the voices and is acting. We are appalled at the loss of these children so young, but mostly at the horrific way in which they died.
I am making it my personal mission to do the best I can to break this sickening cycle of violence against society’s most vulnerable. Prime Minister John Key and our caucus have given me permission to push this along.
We must send the strongest message that such acts are obscene and will not be tolerated in any degree.
There is a problem when we have laws that impose harsher sentences for illtreating an animal than for ill-treating a child.
That’s why the government is pushing a law through Parliament under urgency – just three weeks after being sworn in – that will direct the courts to take into account the specific fact that the victim is a child when sentencing. That law will come into force before Christmas. That’s how important we regard this issue.
And further legislation early next year will bring penalties against child abusers into line with those for offences against adults.
These moves will send a very strong message that the sort of behaviour that led to the deaths of so many children, from Veronika Takereito Dylan Hohepa Tonga Rimoni – two of the 17 killed children cited in the first column – and all those in between, is simply not acceptable.
I share the frustration of many that no one was held accountable for the deaths of Chris and Cru Kahui. If the delay in questioning family members because of their reluctance to speak had some bearing on the conviction then the law around the “right to silence” certainly needs to be looked at.
The same goes for the bashing of the five-monthold Motueka toddler. However, because we don’t want to make law on the basis of one or two cases, I have asked for further work before forming a view. If the problem is more widespread, we will act.
In the case of the Kahui twins, the recently passed Criminal Procedure Bill means that if new and compelling evidence comes forward which implicates an acquitted person, a new police investigation could be approved.
The government is also moving to break the cycle of violence in the home by giving police the power to issue time-bound, on-the-spot protection orders to protect vulnerable family members from further violence until the courts are able to deal with the matter. This will have the effect of making homes safer by removing aggressors from homes.
We expect this law to be introduced to Parliament before Christmas and to go through the select committee stages and become law next year.
This government is determined to do everything it can to make sure the “system” protects our children.
But the hardest job lies ahead – that of breaking the cycle-of-abuse mindset that allows people to treat children in such horrific ways instead of treasuring them. That is something we as a society must strive for.
From the Booth files: The most recent list I have seen names 91 children battered and killed since 1991 – most ranged from infants to underBetween 2001 and last year, Starship treated 86 children for non-accidental head injuries, 59 for other non-accidental injuries and 68 more for “possibly non-accidental injuries”. Of all of these, 17 died.
Maori policy is significantly less decisive than the National Cabinet view.
From Dr Pita Sharples, as co-leader of the Maori Party – he is also Minister of Maori Affairs:
Tena koe Pat, Thanks for the columns you sent us for comment.
When dealing with critically important issues like child violence, it is a responsibility of leadership to inspire hope and confidence, and not let people languish in frustration, anger, fear, despair or hopelessness. That applies to the media as well, and the way they report on these issues.
There are lots of strategies to choose from. We need to be bold, and take a step to believe that change is possible.
As an example, the Maori Party’s solution is to promote strategies to achieve Mauriora – ultimate and optimal wellbeing, based on three simple steps. Firstly, we need to dispel any illusion that violence is normal – we need to name it in all its manifestations.
We all need to look at removing opportunities for violence to occur and the third step is to set in place practices for transformation, sourced in the traditions and experiences that we know have worked before.
The message behind our kaupapa of whanau ora – our policy platform to promote thriving families – is that people can take control by taking responsibility. In a whanau ora context, as long as you blame someone else, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The question that each and every one of us must ask ourselves is: What can I do to help?
When someone has died, nothing can bring them back. Dwelling on our own anger does not help. The best we can do is make sure nothing like that happens to anyone else. We all know that prevention is better than cure.
It was great to read some of your readers’ reactions, that your column made them want to cherish their own children more.
Families also need to keep an eye on the wider network – especially the relations who have the least contact and the greatest problems – and ask how they are getting on. If you are worried, don’t be put off – talk to someone else in the whanau.
It also applies to neighbours and friends. It should become a good habit to call out to your neighbours, invite them over, get to know them. The contact may be a lifeline.
If you feel you have to intervene because you hear adults fighting or a child crying, you may have already left it too late.
In some cases, people are unable to act on their concerns, because of threats or intimidation, for example. If that is you, try to find help confidentially, by talking to a doctor or professional, a helpline or a trusted friend.
Finally, there are many voluntary organisations working to help families under stress. They always need more money and, better yet, more volunteers.
Helping out can make a huge difference to many lives – including your own. It’s a great way to turn feelings of helplessness into positive action for the future. Kia ora.
From the Booth files: When I first analysed figures in the Auckland Star in 1982, the risk of a Maori child being battered to death was twice that of their Pakeha equivalent. Now, 26 years later, it’s nearly three times.
In a typical five-year period to 2005, 17 Maori children under 15 died after vicious assaults. That’s 1.5 per 100,000 children compared with 0.6 per 100,000 rate for non-Maori.
To contact Pat Booth email firstname.lastname@example.org.