He heard the tiny voices – yours too

Auckland City Harbour News - - Opinion -

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 off­pat@snl.co.nz.

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