New Zealand’s Maori protest over ‘stolen children’
Thousands of Maori people protested across New Zealand last Tuesday calling for an end to the practice of taking at-risk children away from their families, as tensions grow between the indigenous community and the Government. Children facing harm have been moved into state care for decades despite criticism from many Maori people, who believe the process is racially skewed and a legacy of colonisation.
Most of the children taken into state care are Maori. Newsroom, an online news site, reported recently that officials from the children’s ministry, called Oranga Tamariki, tried to take a new-born baby away from her mother in hospital.
The report sparked public outrage and is potentially embarrassing for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is known globally for her compassionate style of governing but is also accused by her critics of ignoring domestic issues.
Tuesday’s protest coincided with another stand-off with thousands of Maori protesters in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, over plans to build a housing project on land they believe is sacred. Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of parliament last Tuesday shouting slogans and carrying placards that said: “Hands off our tamariki” - the Maori word for children. Protests were also held in other major cities.
Protesters call the children New Zealand’s “stolen generation” - a reference to indigenous Australians forcibly taken from their families as children under an official policy of assimilation. Oranga Tamariki said in a report last week more than a hundred children had been harmed while in state care in the first three months of the year.
The twin disputes present a challenge for Ms Ardern’s Labour-led coalition, which needs to keep its Maori voters ahead of an election next year.
Maori seats are part of Labour’s support base and played a big part in Ms Ardern’s 2017 election win, said Bryce Edwards, a political commentator at Wellington’s Victoria University.