The United Nations has criticised New Zealand’s high and persistent levels of child poverty in a report by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (released 30 September 2016). Although a short report, it covers a lot of ground. The report outlines a number of issues that ‘require the adoption of urgent measures’, including violence; abuse and neglect; standard of living; and children belonging to minority or indigenous groups, including children with disabilities, intersex children, and adopted children. You can read the full report here and you can read more about the Committee here.
The report’s recommendations align with the work the Institute has undertaken with a number of Councils around the country, what we refer to as Project TacklingPovertyNZ. On reading this UN report this morning, there are at-least nine recommendations that are likely to resonate with participants of the TacklingPovertyNZ 2016 one-day workshop tour.
Committee on the Rights of the Child report recommendations:
- Adopt a comprehensive policy and strategy for the implementation of the Convention and its first two Optional Protocols. They should be developed in cooperation with the public and private sectors involved in the promotion and protection of children’s rights, as well as in consultation with children, and based on a child rights approach. This policy should encompass all children in the State Party and all areas covered by the Convention, be supported by sufficient human, technical and financial resources, clear and adequate budgetary allocations and a time frame, as well as follow-up and monitoring mechanisms.
- Consider a different name for the proposed Ministry for Vulnerable Children, and avoid the categorization of children, in law and policy, which may lead to stigmatization.
- Develop a comprehensive mechanism for data collection and an information system on all areas of the Convention. The data should be disaggregated by age, sex, disability, geographic location, ethnic origin, nationality and socioeconomic background, to facilitate analysis on the situation of all children, and particularly Māori and Pasifika children, children in care, children with disabilities, children living in poverty, refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children, and children in other situations of vulnerability.
- Ensure that the data and indicators are shared among the ministries concerned and used for the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, programmes and projects for the effective implementation of the Convention.
- The Committee recommends that the State party take all measures necessary to address inconsistencies in national legislation concerning the definition of the child, including by defining the minimum age of marriage at 18 years for both girls and boys and extending the scope of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 to cover all persons under the age of 18.
- Expand access to internet and information to children living in rural areas.
- Establish a national database on all cases of violence against children in families, schools and institutional care, and undertake a comprehensive assessment of the extent, causes and nature of such violence.
- Establish a comprehensive data system on incidents of sexual abuse of children in all settings, including in the family, in schools and in care institutions to develop appropriate institutional responses.
- Raise the age of criminal majority to 18 years.
McGuinness Institute observations to date include:
- The next report is due by 5 May 2021; the Institute considers five years is too long and recommends sooner action be taken. This could take the form of (i) a report outlining the government’s response to the recommendations outlined in the recent report by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and (ii) a set of measures and a review clause to assess whether policy changes have been effective in the short term (e.g. three years time).
- The Institute supports a new name for the proposed Ministry for Vulnerable Children for the reasons articulated in the report.
- Throughout the TacklingPovertyNZ tour, an issue that became apparent was the use of drugs in the home and children who are born drug dependent. This report only mentioned drug abuse once – ‘The Committee… recommends that the State party intensify its efforts to render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities with timely responses at the local level, including services to parents who need counselling in child-rearing, services for the treatment of alcohol or drug-related problems, and, in the case of Māori and Pasifika populations, culturally appropriate services to enable them to fulfil their parental role.’ The Institute would like to see more attention paid to the role that drug-related problems play in child poverty and provide recommendations on how drug abuse can be tackled.
- The Institute supports the consistent definition of ‘children’ in New Zealand legislation (to become 17 years and below) but also wants to see a definition of ‘young adults’ (such as 18 to 25 year-olds). Young adults need a stepping stone from childhood to becoming a fully-fledged adult. Some people argue that society tends to put too much protectionism around young people. However, the Institute proposes that we should be working to instil clear rights and responsibilities in our 18 to 25 year-olds and ensure that one mistake does not determine the rest of their lives; young people should be able to repair their wrongs and find new ways forward. This could be seen as a ‘second chance’, and should not follow a ‘first strike and you are out’ rule. The Institute is exploring policy recommendations for this age-bracket. If anyone is doing work in this area, and would like to discuss it further, please contact us. Examples of how this might operate in practice include the following:
a.) Young adults who have children have additional support to continue their study or work.
b.) Young adults have a seven day window to withdraw from any arrangements that put them in a situation of debt. At the TacklingPovertyNZ workshops we often heard of young people taking on excessive debt (for example, borrowing money to buy a large-screen television or a car).
c.) Young adults who fail a drug test have 60 days leave from work and then are able to reapply for the job, no questions asked (other than passing a second drug test).
d.) Young adults need to be 18 before being treated as an adult in the judiciary system (currently a person who is 17 or older is dealt with as an adult in a New Zealand District Court or the High Court).
About the TacklingPovertyNZ Tour
Throughout the TacklingPovertyNZ tour, communities have been putting together a list of ‘hows’ that outline national and local levers on how to tackle poverty in New Zealand. We will be publishing these on the TacklingPovertyNZ website over the next few months. In the meantime, the Councils and the Institute continue to work with these communities to build and share ideas on how to tackle poverty. To discuss this tour, or anything else we have covered in this blog post, please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com.
As we publish this post, we are pleased to see that the Ending Homelessness in New Zealand report has been released. Both reports will feed into our work.
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