This is an article I have been waiting to write for many months. Now, today, after the sentencing of two child killers, I can.
It has to be a nation’s hidden shame that a child is killed every five weeks because of some kind of violence. What we don’t expect is that it should be happening in a country like New Zealand. Today the highest sentence every imposed for manslaughter was handed down in the New Zealand high Court in the death ot three year old toddler Moko Rangitoheriri. An innocent little boy who the nation now knows was subjected to some of the most profoundly disturbing torture and abuse most people have ever heard. The offenders, Tania Shailer and David Haerewa, the would be carers, were handed 17 year sentences.
Moko’s mother read a statement to the court about her little boy that bought our office, and probably many parents around the world to tears, when she said:
"On his fourth birthday I visited his grave, something I never planned to do. This year he would have turned 5 and I would have got him ready for school, but instead I had to bury him ... I have a horrible pain in my heart ... My boy - my children - are the centre of my universe and my world has changed forever." "The pain and upheaval in my children's and my life is never ending ... I would easily exchange the pain that Moko endured and have that inflicted on me if that would save his life. I would take the beatings, the horrific abuse, that they gave my son. I would take being kicked and bit, I would take all of the torture if that would save Moko's life."
The death of Moko is but the latest in a string of cases that highlights the fact that as a country we have a major problem. There have been 61 deaths of children recorded as non-accidental in the last decade and of those 31 were deemed to have been violently abused. At the end of 2015 the Agency of Child Youth and Family had, on its books, 8,800 cases of proven child neglect and abuse. As the New Zealand Herald’s police reporter, Anna Leask, noted: “In the same period, the agency received 76,041 "reports of concern" about suspected child abuse or neglect which included 34,226 referrals from police. Of the initial reports, 22,917 required further action and were investigated.”
The data is scary, especially for a small nation like New Zealand. The other reality is that there has been report after report commissioned by successive New Zealand Government on the issue of child abuse and neglect and more often than not many of the same conclusions are drawn and recommendations made.
Dr Patrick Kelly, head of the child abuse unit at the Star Ship Hospital has previously said that "The median age for abusive head injury patients in New Zealand is 5 months. Most of those babies are not known to CYF at the time they die.”
The truth is the problem is more than just about resourcing to respond to the existing case load what we need is a culture change and that culture change must span all of our ethnic groups, communities and even workplaces. Whatever we may want to believe this is a dirty little secret that is shameful and what we all must do is much more than we currently are.
More money is sorely needed, better targeting of awareness raising campaigns, more work on better parenting and ensuring that the infrastructure exists to allow early reporting. In essence, we must be in the business of prevention, intervention and primary care.
To delay the investment required is to give rise to more deaths – and New Zealand can no longer afford that.
Where there are crimes being committed or there is a suspicion of such, people should report to police directly via 111 or through their local police or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
You can also report any suspected child abuse, neglect, harm or maltreatment to Child Youth and Family on 0508 326 459.
*with particular thanks to the ongoing reporting of Anna Leask, senior reporter for the New Zealand Herald
Matthew Tukaki is the editor of EntreHub.org and is a New Zealander based in Sydney. He is Chairman of Australia's National Coalition for Suicide Prevention and Chair's several leading not for profit organisations.
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