The state and the chil­dren

Kapi-Mana News - - CONVERSATIONS -

chil­dren was wide­spread. That much has emerged from Judge Carolyn Hen­wood’s seven-year Con­fi­den­tial Lis­ten­ing and As­sis­tance Service. Last year, Hen­wood her­self rec­om­mended an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry be­cause many had not come for­ward.

So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Anne Tol­ley has ar­gued that there is no ev­i­dence that the abuse was ‘‘sys­temic.’’ What is ‘‘sys­temic’’ and what is in­ci­den­tal seems a fine dis­tinc­tion when so many chil­dren were clearly abused.

But the in­de­pen­dent in­quiry called for by the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion and var­i­ous prom­i­nent New Zealan­ders would de­ter­mine just how deep the prob­lem went. It could test the claim that there was in ef­fect a ‘‘lost gen­er­a­tion’’ of Maori chil­dren who were seized for rea­sons which now seem of­ten tri­fling and who never re­turned to their fam­i­lies.

A sys­tem­atic in­quiry would be nec­es­sar­ily open-ended and it would be ex­pen­sive. About 100,000 chil­dren were taken into care dur­ing the pe­riod from the 1950s to the 1990s. Hen­wood’s in­quiry heard from 1100 peo­ple who spent time in chil­dren’s homes, borstals and fos­ter care be­fore 1992.

They didn’t in­clude many pris­on­ers or peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties. We do not know how many more would come for­ward if a proper public in­quiry was to sit.

But there is now plenty of ev­i­dence that the state be­trayed its re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for these chil­dren. This is an ex­am­ple of ne­glect or cru­elty which is in­tol­er­a­ble in a demo­cratic coun­try com­mit­ted to hu­man rights.

The crime, in other words, is so ter­ri­ble that the in­quiry must be equal to it. Ar­guably this has not yet hap­pened.

Prime Min­is­ter Bill English says the in­quiry would be a ‘‘dis­trac­tion’’. From what, ex­actly? It is no use Tol­ley ar­gu­ing that the Govern­ment’s root-and-branch re­form of the sys­tem of state care means the prob­lem won’t re­cur. That doesn’t fix the sys­tem that blighted the lives of so many.

Politi­cians don’t want to launch an in­quiry likely to lead to even more ex­pense and trou­ble than has oc­curred al­ready. But they have no real choice.

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