Summary by Rebecca Thomson
The Aotearoa Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) has made submissions to the Ministry of Social Development on its draft Fifth Periodic Report for New Zealand under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).
UNCROC confirms the rights owed to children and young people (aged 17 and younger) by their countries. As a state party to UNCROC New Zealand is required to make reports every five years to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding its achievement of the rights set out in UNCROC. New Zealand's fifth report is due to be filed this year.
The HRLA submission focussed on eight key areas of concern;
- New Zealand continues to allow parents to physically discipline their children, despite the Committee recommending an explicit ban on all forms of violence against children.
- The Family Dispute Resolution service which has been implemented as a mandatory step before a dispute may be taken to the Family Court does not appear to be working as intended nor funded to the extent necessary, to the detriment of families who are already suffering through a stressful period in their lives.
- Children of offenders sentenced to imprisonment are often separated from their parents due to prison bed allocations, and unable to keep in contact with them through skype (for example). All children separated by state law from their parents have the right to maintain their relationship through direct contact with their parents on a regular basis.
- Unmarried same-sex couples remain unable to adopt children under the Adoption Act 1955, an unjustified breach of the right against discrimination on the basis of marital status and sexual orientation.
- As with the Family Dispute Resolution service, Family Violence Courts and the social services which surround them must be adequately funded. At present there are delays in returning children to their offending parent's care after sentencing, in cases where their continued separation is not necessary.
- Children and young people subject to the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 are not afforded the same rights as adults subject to the Act, because of a practical lack of resources available for their care.
- Similarly, the rights of young people who are incarcerated are often breached because of a lack of resourcing. For example, young people may be held in custodial units with adults (particularly young female offenders, for whom there is no specialist Youth Unit in the country).
- Raising the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to include 17 year olds would be consistent with New Zealand's obligations under UNCROC, and likely to save costs in the long-term by dealing with young offenders in a way which recognises their vulnerabilities and developing psychology.
The HRLA's conclusion is that many positive steps have been taken under the aegis of UNCROC, but that there is certainly room for New Zealand as a country to improve outcomes for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Their voices must not be lost.
Image used under a Creative Commons License: '0001_zoriah_child_labor_children_working_20120816_0203' by Zoriah is licensed under CC BY 2.0.