Structural reforms for children are yet to materialise into improved outcomes says Disability Rights Commissioner

Structural reforms for children are yet to materialise into improved outcomes says Disability Rights Commissioner

March 20, 2020

The Disability Rights Commissioner says good progress has been made since the last review of New Zealand’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but significant issues remain as structural reforms for children are yet to materialise into improved outcomes.

“The reforms to legislation and policy in New Zealand relating to children’s rights in recent years have been a major step forward in advancing the country’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Children,” says Disability Rights Commissioner, Paula Tesoriero.

However, the Disability Rights Commissioner says issues remain. “While there has been progress integrating the Convention’s principles into New Zealand’s legislative framework, progress in improving socio-economic disparities among New Zealand children has proven more difficult,” she explains.

The comments from the Disability Rights Commissioner come as part of the Human Rights Commission Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child as part of the 6th periodic review under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In its submission, the Human Rights Commission explained that income poverty rates remain high, rates of severe housing deprivation have worsened, and structural discrimination remains at similar levels across a wide range of socio-economic indicia.

 “This indicates that the significant structural reforms since 2016 are yet to materialise into significantly improved outcomes for children. This is due, in part, to the timeframes required for change to occur. The Child Poverty Reduction Act, for example, introduces ten-year poverty reduction targets. Its effectiveness will accordingly become evident over time,” says Tesoriero.

There is currently a large amount of reform occurring across the social sector, much of which directly affect children. This includes new legislation governing the education system and a fundamental review of the social security system. Formal inquiries are also underway, including a Royal Commission of Inquiry into historic abuse in State Care, as well as reviews of the current failings of New Zealand’s child protection and state care system.

“The Government has set child and youth wellbeing as a priority. Establishing a comprehensive human-rights based framework will help to help make this real for all children in New Zealand and will improve outcomes,” explains the Disability Rights Commissioner.

The Human Rights Commission has a role in monitoring the government's human rights obligation for children. The United Nations last reviewed New Zealand’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2016. As part of the review process, the Commission makes suggestions on what issues the UN should raise with the government, as well as the issues and opportunities that should be addressed. It works with the Children’s Commissioner and with NGOs through the Children’s Rights Alliance. The next step is scheduled for June. The process is outlined here.

Click here to read the submission.

Contact us if you would like to know more, and if you would like a Word version to use with screen reader accessibility technology.

Update: In June 2020 the Commission had the opportunity to make a brief supplementary submission to update the UN Committee on New Zealand’s experience of COVID-19. You can read that supplementary submission here. Please contact us if you would like an accessible Word version.

Update: The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has issued its List of Issues Prior to Reporting. You can read it here. The next step is the New Zealand government reporting to the UN Committee on these issues in mid-2021.

See the Human Rights Commission’s recommendations below:

A. General measures of implementation:

  1. Further to its 2019 UPR statement, information regarding any concrete measures the New Zealand government has taken towards considering whether to accede to the OPCP and remove the reservations to the Convention.
  2. Details of additional resources, if any, provided to support the current monitoring and co-ordination of the Convention carried out by the CMG and the DCE Group.
  3. Information on the extent to which the reforms to public services legislation impact upon current Convention monitoring and co-ordination arrangements and the implementation of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy.
  4. Information on the extent to which the government’s commitments under the Convention, other human rights treaties and the SDGs are considered and incorporated into the formation of wellbeing priorities under Budget Policy Statements.
  5. Details of how Stats NZ intends to incorporate, measure and report progress against the SDG targets within the Indicators Aotearoa framework.
  6. Details of the data sources that will be used to report on outcomes for children under the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and the Child Poverty Reduction Act, including whether they disaggregate data on children by age, sex, disability, geographic location, ethnic origin, nationality and socioeconomic background.
  7. Information on steps taken to date towards issuing a national plan of action on business and human rights, including details on how the plan intends to include and address the rights of children and other vulnerable population groups.

B. Definition of the child:

  1. Information on the number of times and circumstances under which a Family Court judge has approved a marriage involving a 16 or 17-year-old since the enactment of the Minors (Court Consent to Relationships) Legislation Act 2018.
  2. The government’s position on whether it intends to amend the Marriage Act to:
    1. Restrict the minimum legal age of marriage to 18 years in all circumstances; or
    2. Introduce the “exceptional circumstances” criteria recommended by the CEDAW Committee.

C. General principles:

  1. An account of progress made under the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy in respect of outcomes for Māori and Pacific children, disabled children, and children with a disabled parent, guardian, or caregiver.
  2. All other legislative and policy measures taken that specifically seek to address disparities experienced by Maori and Pacific children, children belonging to ethnic minorities, refugee children, migrant children, children with disabilities and LGBTI children.
  3. Any specific measures, including protective measures, taken to counter hate speech and discrimination towards children from ethnic and religious minorities since the 15 March 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks.
  4. The procedures regarding the application of the “child-related principles” under s6C of the Children Act 2014 when making decisions under that legislation.
  5. The number of times assessments made under the Child Impact Assessment tool are referred to in regulatory impact statements, departmental disclosure statements, cabinet papers and other government documentation regarding formation of policy and legislation that affects children.
  6. Details of training for government officials on children’s rights, the Convention and the use of the Child Impact Assessment tool, including numbers of attendees.
  7. All measures taken under the Suicide Prevention Strategy 2019–2029, the Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2019–2024 and by the Suicide Prevention Office directed at reducing child and youth suicide rates, including suicide rates for Māori children and youth aged 10-24.
  8. The procedures used for consulting with children and young people in respect of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and the statement on National Education and Learning Priorities, and the results of those consultation processes.
  9. An evaluation of the impact of s5(1)(a) of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 on the participation of children and young people in procedures and proceedings under that Act.

D. Civil rights and freedoms:

  1. Information on the implementation of the Treaty of Waitangi duties of the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki under s7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act.
  2. Information on the implementation of Treaty of Waitangi duties of the education sector following enactment of the Education and Training Bill.
  3. Information on the use of the PHRAE tool when assessing information sharing and data analytics practices and proposals, including frequency of use and details of the outcomes of PHRAE assessments, including any impact on policy and practices.
  4. Details of safeguards to protect children’s rights, including protection from discrimination, in information-sharing practices authorised under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 and the Family Violence Act 2018.
  5. Details of specific legislation and policy changes to counter online extremism, including details of any child rights impact assessments undertaken.
  6. Any measures to increase equity of internet access for children from low income or rural households.

E. Violence against children:

  1. Details on the current progress in developing a strategy and action plan to reduce family and sexual violence, including information on aspects of the strategy and action plan that specifically regard children and young people.
  2. In light of the 2018 concerns of the CEDAW Committee, any information regarding the development of a single integrated data source on family and sexual violence, disaggregated by age, ethnicity, disability status, and other indicia.

F. Family environment and alternative care:

  1. Details regarding the government’s response to (and implementation of):
    1. the recommendations of Ko Te Wā Whakawhiti, A Māori Inquiry into Oranga Tamariki;
    2. the findings of the systemic investigation by the Ombudsman into removals of newborns by Oranga Tamariki;
    3. the findings of the Children’s Commissioner’s review of Oranga Tamariki’s care and protection practices for pēpē Māori;
    4. if applicable, any recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care regarding current frameworks to prevent and respond to abuse in care.
  2. Information regarding the full range of support services funded and made available by Oranga Tamariki for disabled children and disabled parents subject to its jurisdiction.
  3. Information regarding the levels of carer support and respite care for parents of children with disabilities, including funding measures to ensure ongoing, equitable provision of community-based services.
  4. An explanation of the government’s position on amending the provisions of the Adoption Act 1955 and Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 declared by the Human Rights Review Tribunal to be discriminatory in Adoption Action v Attorney-General [2016] NZHRRT 9.

G. Disability, health and welfare:

  • Any additional measures intended to support young people aged 16 and 17 years old who are eligible to receive care or provide care as a caregiver under the new Funded Family Care policy.
  • Information regarding the Ministry of Health’s position on inclusion of FASD within its disability support services funding framework.
  • Specific measures taken to address the disproportionate numbers of Pacific children hospitalised for medical conditions and, more generally, to address health inequities among children along socioeconomic and ethnic lines.
  • Information regarding policy and legislative measures initiated in response to the recommendations of the He Ara Oranga report that regard children, young people and their parents/caregivers, including the development of legislation that provides for a human rights approach to mental health services.
  • In light of the work of the Intersex Clinical Reference Group, any measures to amend current practices regarding consent for surgery on intersex infants and children.
  • Any information regarding climate change planning that specifically regards or takes into account the rights, views, welfare and interests of children and young people.
  • Measures taken to address and implement recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing arising from her mission to New Zealand in February 2020, including the development of a human rights-based housing strategy.
  • Measures taken to specifically address the impact of severe housing deprivation, homelessness, insecure housing and high levels of residential mobility on the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
  • Details of specific budgetary and policy measures taken towards meeting the Child Poverty Reduction Act targets.
  • Measures taken to implement the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, including recommendations of legislative change.

H. Education, leisure and culture:

  1. In light of the Education and Training Bill, details of any further measures to explicitly incorporate the right to inclusive education into education legislation and policy. 
  2. Measures taken to implement clause 9 of the Education and Training Bill as regards the duties of schools and the Crown to implement the Treaty of Waitangi in the school system, including data regarding the delivery and frequency of te reo Māori and tikangi Māori education in New Zealand schools.
  3. Measures to develop a new or refreshed Pacific Education Plan to follow the Pacific Education Plan 2013-17
  4. Information regarding the implementation of the independent school appeal process, including any measures taken to ensure that the process conforms with the requirements of the Convention and other domestic and international human rights instruments. 
  5. Information regarding the development of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples action plan, including specific information regarding the involvement of tamariki and rangatahi Māori (children and young people) in the development of the plan. 
  6. Any new measures taken to reduce bullying in schools since ERO’s 2019 report Bullying Prevention and Response in New Zealand Schools, including specific measures to reduce bullying of disabled students and of SOGIESC students.

I. Special protection measures:

  1. Details of all measures to uphold the rights of children whose parents are in prison, including babies who reside with their mother in prison under the Corrections Act.
  2. Details regarding all protective measures to support the health and wellbeing of children and young people directly affected by the Christchurch mosque attacks, including any further consideration given to expanding ACC coverage for those who have suffered a mental injury, and all measures taken in response to the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attacks. 
  3. Details of any updates to immigration and refugee policy and practice guidelines regarding migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children, including any express provision for their views and best interests to be taken into account in processes and decision-making. 
  4. Details of any measures to provide special health and safety protections to all workers aged under 18. 
  5. Any measures to bring the minimum age of criminal responsibility into conformity with the Convention and General Comment No 24. 
  6. Details of any specific measures to respond to the prevalence of neuro-disability in the youth justice system, including data gathering, specialist support services (including in residential care), primary prevention strategies and legislative and policy changes. 
  7. Details of all specific measures, including additional funding, support services and primary prevention strategies, designed to address the inequality experienced by tamariki and rangatahi Māori in the criminal justice system. 
  8. Any steps towards the repeal of remands into police custody under s238(1)(e) of the Oranga Tamariki Act, including the development of new community-based residences under s364 of the Act and measures to reduce the proportion of young people in secure youth justice residences who are on remand.