5. New Zealand today – Aotearoa i tenei ra

A brief demographic overview of children and young people from the 2001 census shows that those aged 0–17 years make up 27 percent of the New Zealand population (Statistics New Zealand, 2001a). Almost one quarter of the population was under the age of 15 at the time of the 2001 census. The diversity of our children and young people is increasing, with 18 percent identifying with more than one ethnic group. An increasing number of children will be of Maori or Pacific descent in the future. One third of our households include children and 16 percent of children live in households with an annual income of less than $20,000. An estimated 20,000 children live in households with no heating.

Around 90,000 (12 percent) children aged under 15 years were reported to have a disability in the 2001 census. A total of 413,200 people aged 15–64 years, and 241,000 aged 65 years and over reported having a disability (Statistics New Zealand, 2002).

A survey of disabled people (Statistics New Zealand, 2001b) highlighted disparities for this group in accessing work, health services and low-cost housing. This lack of access is compounded by low incomes for disabled people. In families where disabled adults are endeavouring to provide for their children, both the children and the adults experience even more disadvantages.

Despite the wide range of data and the variety of young people consulted for this report, some clear themes with human rights dimensions emerged. They involve:

The CIC Stocktake Report covers these themes in greater detail.

Participation

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Article 12(1) of the UNCROC provides that, in accordance with the evolving capacities of the child, due weight should be given to their views on matters affecting them. Other Articles, such as Article 15 on the right to associate with others and Article 23 on the right to special care and involvement in society by disabled children, also make provision for the participation of children and young people.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has highlighted the need to ensure that the right of young people to have their views taken into account in administrative or judicial processes that affect them is systematically included in legislation and regulations (UNCRC, 2003a). Currently, in many circumstances that affect them children can only be parties to court action, but cannot initiate or challenge court decisions that affect them in their own right.

This is noticeable, for example, in Family Court proceedings where matters of custody and guardianship are dealt with. The appointment of counsel for the child goes some way towards ensuring a voice for children, but this means that children are not viewed as actors in their own right. Rather, it mitigates the actions of others. Furthermore, these processes rely on the willingness of legal counsel to actually speak with children and represent their interests in these proceedings.

“Young people sometimes feel as though the community doesn’t trust us or value us that much, like we are a nuisance and sometimes our opinions and voices aren’t heard because of these stereotypes. This could be improved if adults gave us a little more credit and judged us after they had heard what we had to say. I don’t know how you could get them to do this though.” 13-17 year old survey respondent

Background research and consultation indicated the need to ensure that children and young people are listened to, that their opinions are respected and taken seriously, and that their participation rights are implemented. Participants in the Children’s Symposium said that young people’s participation should not be tokenistic and that young people should be involved in projects from start to finish.

Both the Agenda for Children (Ministry of Social Development (MSD) & Ministry of Youth Affairs (MYA), 2002) and the Youth Development Strategy (MYA, 2002) recognise these basic rights of participation. The Care of Children Bill (clauses 5 and 6) also refers to Article 12 of UNCROC.

A programme is needed to actively promote children’s right to participation in both the government and non-government sectors (Institute of Public Policy et al., 2002), as well as to develop and promote educational resources, guidelines and other tools to assist organisations to involve children in decision-making processes. Such processes would be particularly useful in schools, where opportunities for student participation in decision-making are generally limited.

At home

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Poverty

Research indicates that nearly three out of ten children and young people in New Zealand live in poverty.[3] Consequently, they are significantly disadvantaged in terms of their growth and development. Maori and Pacific children, and children in low income and single parent families, are particularly affected. The UNCRC (2003a) recommends that New Zealand take appropriate measures to assist parents (sole parents in particular) and others responsible for children to implement children’s right to an adequate standard of living.

Children and young people who have parents and caregivers with disabilities are in a particularly vulnerable position, as the adults in their lives are often disadvantaged in accessing housing and accessing higher incomes. This has a direct impact on the lives of the children and young people in their care.

Photo of boy in traditional muslim hat.

Participants in the consultations also urged greater assistance for children and young people whose families live in poverty. They saw a need to promote greater awareness of the financial assistance already available. Many young people identified a need for more money for rent, food, bills, activities and holidays. They wished for better housing, quiet space at home to study, and more (and healthier) food.

Free health care and education were also thought to be essential. Currently, payment of school fees – while not compulsory – is expected and, while general practitioner visits are heavily subsidised by Government and the 2004–2005 Government Budget expands both the subsidy age range and pharmaceutical cost subsidy, some GP practices continue to charge additional fees for children.

The Ministry of Social Development has developed a household living standards scale as part of its Living Standards research programme. This seeks to address the UNCRC’s concerns about the lack of transparency in economic policy and its impact on children and young people by providing up to date information on trends in living standards for various populations.

Abuse

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A number of recent analyses suggest that some children and young people in New Zealand continue to suffer from abuse and neglect of all types (Action for Children & Youth Aotearoa (ACYA), 2003a; 2003b; Agenda for Children Project Team (ACPT), 2002; Blaiklock, Kiro, Belgrave, Low, Davenport, & Hassall, 2002; Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), 2003; Institute of Public Policy (AUT) et al., 2002; Le Lievre, 1999; MSD & MYA, 2002; MYA, 2000; MYA, 2002; UMR Research, 2003). In a UNICEF study on child deaths from maltreatment (1994–1998), New Zealand rated fifth worst (or in the bottom five) of 27 OECD countries. There are a number of existing government initiatives to address Article 19(1) of the Convention, which requires that:

State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

However, the UNCRC (2003a) recommends the Government also:

Consultation feedback overwhelmingly highlighted the need to prevent abuse. Many respondents said there should be no abuse or fighting at home (from either parents or siblings), others thought parents should go to parent school. For disabled children and young people in particular, the risk factors with regard to safety, both within their families and in their communities, are high. Children and young people in the consultation thought that it was incredibly important that people at home listen to them, love and care about them, and spend time with them.

The protection of children and young people is contained in UNCROC Articles 19, 23 and 34, which cover a number of legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child.

“You should be allowed to say what you want without getting a punch”
Rangitahi focus group participant

There has been a recent First Principles Baseline Review of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (Child, Youth and Family) and a Care and Protection Blueprint has been developed, but concern remains high about the number of reported cases of child abuse (Child, Youth & Family, MSD, & Treasury, 2003). In 2003–2004 up to 40,000 notifications were received by Child Youth and Family (2003). This represented an approximately 15 percent increase on the previous year, which had been an increase on the year before that. Furthermore, these notifications comprise cases deemed worthy of further follow-up by the Department, not numbers of calls made to the Call Centre, and included all the risk categories from highest risk to lowest.

The UNCRC’s Second Periodic Report (2003b) makes recommendations on services and programmes to prevent child abuse and to provide assistance to victims of abuse. Consultation participants called for better coordination of services for vulnerable families and victims of abuse, something that was recommended by the Children’s Commissioner in her review of the deaths of Saliel and Olympia Aplin (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2003).

“We need our own space at home and somewhere to go if your parents fight”
Young people in care focus group participant

The Ministry of Social Development continue to work on the Te Rito: New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy (Family Violence Focus Group, 2002), which provides a framework for implementing a plan of action to address all forms and degrees of family violence. The Ministry of Justice, Police and NGO anti-violence groups are also involved in this work.

Other issues at home

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Some participants from cultures other than European felt that their parents needed to recognise that they are often required to live in two cultural worlds – their traditional culture and mainstream New Zealand culture. These young people say it is difficult for them if their parents expect them to behave in only traditional ways. Again, this is dealt with in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Article 8, which states that:

State Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

Some participants thought they should not always have to look after their younger siblings, especially if it is because parents are going out socially. Article 3(2) of UNCROC reminds State Parties of their obligation on matters of protection but also takes into account the rights and duties of the parents of a child or young person. Survey respondents, in particular, identified the need for parenting education and support.

“Acknowledge we’re in a different country and culture and that it’s not wrong for us to adapt to it”
Pacific young people focus group participant

Participants highlighted the need for greater support for teen parents. They said young people needed to have good role models at home and in the wider community (reflected in the media).

A Caritas study in 2003 further found that in a number of cases families relied on young people to generate income to support the family.

Schools and early childhood centres

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Accessibility, choices, activities

The evidence suggests that some families experience difficulty in paying the costs associated with education, such as school fees, exam fees and activity fees.

Some young people who have been expelled from a school may find it difficult to find another school to accept them (ACYA, 2003a, 2003b; ACPT, 2002; Le Lievre, 1999). In the period from 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2003, 0.2 percent of students attending New Zealand schools (761,755 students) were expelled or excluded, and 0.7 percent were suspended from school (Ministry of Education, 2004).

Certain factors assist young people to feel a sense of connectedness, well-being and confidence in being able to reach their full potential at an early childhood centre or school, but these are not always provided for young people in education settings in New Zealand (ACYA, 2003b). These include:

Some of the above concerns raise issues of compliance with Article 8 (rights to identity) and Article 28 (access to education) of UNCROC. Young people also expressed concerns about the ability of children and young people to participate in decisions made about them in the education sector.

In the CIC research, children and young people stated that, for a number of reasons, their participation rights were not being realised. Feedback indicated that, although most teachers are good, young people want all of them to listen and ‘not to pick on them for no apparent reason’. Young people want to be able to choose the subjects they like, and to have more activities (sporting, musical, artistic and cultural), weekend trips and camps (and enough money to afford them). Many asked for more sports facilities and equipment. There was a plea for there to be someone trustworthy to talk to at school, and for everyone to have access to education even if they have left school. The teen parents at the symposium said this was very important for them. Most respondents said education should be free. Adult survey respondents made extensive suggestions for improving the learning environment at school. Younger respondents were very keen to learn about their rights and thought school was a logical place to do so.

“Mum couldn’t pay for my books and fees so she pulled me out of school when I was 13”
Rangitahi focus group participant

The UNCRC (2003a) suggested that government take effective measures to address disparities in enrolment and drop-out rates between ethnic groups (one of its recommendations to this end was to strengthen programmes for bilingual education). It also recommended taking all necessary measures, including the provision of high-quality counselling programmes in schools, to address behavioural problems of students while respecting their right to privacy. The UNCRC also commented on the need to ensure adequate programmes for teenage parents.

Within government, work has started on the development of a Schooling Strategy that focuses on the achievement of excellence in education outcomes and the reduction of systematic under-achievement in education. This strategy is currently moving through a consultation phase.