Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: Power Goes Too Far

According to the NZ Herald:

Extended family and close friends of child abusers could face up to 10 years in prison if they turn a blind eye to abuse and do not report it.

Justice Minister Simon Power yesterday introduced changes aimed at protecting children from abuse and neglect, including a new offence making people who are close to a family liable if they do not report abuse to the authorities.

Another step too far.

It'll be interesting to see where the Maori Party fall on this one. Given Turia's drive to make more families responsible for their own to reduce family violence, will she support National on this one? It could play either way. More state involvement always leads to less personal responsibility. On the other hand the new punishment might be described as enforcing greater responsibility. No. I hope, along with the Greens (ACT are hopeless in this area) the Maori Party will denounce this.

It is clear that getting CYF involved in family problems is not necessarily the cure-all. It isn't difficult to conjure scenarios where a family member might be loathe to go to them or the police preferring to deal with a situation themselves. What about a mother who sees one of her children abused by a violent partner but the others left alone? She can plan to leave. In the interim she suspects that bringing the police into the picture will exacerbate matters. Ramp up the violence. Involve the other children. She makes a choice to try and resolve her situation herself and with help from other close friends she trusts and tells about the violence. They are also now culpable.

They weren't "doing nothing" but they failed to report the abuse. Will the two parts of the equation be separated?

I see other problems as well. The threshold for abuse and neglect is legally very low. A grandparent who has always smacked to discipline, and still does, should be reported by the parent lest he or she risks a jail term? Yes, my objection sounds vaguely silly but it's valid.

And what about people involved with families as volunteers or mentors? Someone working with a violent family who's task it is to change that behaviour? What if they fail and the police become involved. Retrospectively, is that person - who has become a "close friend" - now culpable?

And was the abuse actually seen, or is 'suspected' enough to make an associate take a walk? Imagine the finger-pointing when one person is going down.

We all know what kind of people Power is trying to net here. But his solution is going to be fraught.

One last question. If it's such a good idea why has it taken until now to think of?


Anonymous said...

How will Lindsay deal with the children who have contracted AIDs from being raped in NZ. Is it better to protect the Mothers and other children; and have one child suffer an agnosing death? To save a family and the perpertrator... Children are getting AIDs in this country through rape and incest. According to UN Rights of the Child report 2010.

Chuck Bird said...

I would be interested in seeing the wording of the legislation. I would hope that abuse in the context of the new legislation would be defined as serious or gross abuse. This would mean that failing to reporting a smack on the backside would not be an offence.

There have been many cases where a mother has allowed serious abuse to her children by a live-in-lover to go on over a sustained period sometime only ending with the death of a child. I totally support such a person being charged with an offence that carries a significant penalty

Anonymous said...

In England, near where I stayed, a child died from neglect. The boyfriend got life for manslaughter and the hopeless mother 15 years.
NZ Crimes Act allows conviction as a party section 66 to a crime. Also section 195 allows conviction for permitting harm to a child.
Often the (Maori) mother takes no responsibility for her children, leaving others in the house to feed them or not, etc. This was the case with Kahui twins.
Many people see CYFS as a danger. CYFS damage more children than they save.