UNCROC publishes concluding observations on the rights of the child

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The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) has recommended the New Zealand Government adopt urgent measures on: violence, abuse and neglect; children deprived of a family environment; standard of  living; children  belonging  to  minority or  indigenous groups; child labour; and juvenile justice.

It also recommended the Government 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" (para 7(b)).

UNCROC made its comments in its concluding observations on the fifth period report of New Zealand. The Committee considered the report at its meeting in Geneva on 15 and 16 September 2016 which was attended by a New Zealand delegation, including Social Development Minister Anne Tolley. A video recording of the UN session can be viewed online.

The Committee welcomed the progress achieved by New Zealand in various areas, including the ratification of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in 2011 as well as the adoption of the Vulnerable Children’s Act in 2014 and other institutional and policy measures related to children’s rights since its last review. It also welcomed the significant progress in reducing child mortality.

The Committee’s comments on violence against children are reproduced below:

"Violence, abuse and neglect

22. While  welcoming  the  State  party’s  multiple  efforts  to  address  child  abuse  and neglect, the Committee remains seriously concerned about the:

(a) Incidents  of violence,  which  can  amount  to torture  or  cruel,  inhuman  or degrading treatment of children in State care, including the use of restraints and deprivation of liberty in the form of Secure Care;

(b) Difficulties faced by child victims of abuse and neglect in State care to seek redress, including inadequate knowledge among children about complaints mechanisms and the insufficient support provided to child victims reporting incidents of abuse;

(c) Continuing  prevalence  of  physical  and  psychological  abuse  and  neglect, especially among Maori and Pasifika children and children with disabilities, and the lack of a  comprehensive  strategy  against  abuse  and  neglect    to  encompass  all  children  in  all settings;

(d) Enduring unavailability of comprehensive data on child abuse in all settings, including families, schools, and institutional care;

(e) Insufficient measures to assess the Vulnerable Children’s Plan, the Violence Intervention  Programme,  and  the  National  Child  Protection  Alert  System  in  combating child abuse and neglect;

(f) Insufficient  resources  available  to  front-line services, such as the Children’s Teams.

23. In  the  light  of  its  general  comment  No.  13  (2011)  on  the  right  of  the  child  to freedom  from  all  forms  of  violence  and  taking  note of  target  16.2  of  the  Sustainable Development Goals on ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against   and   torture   of   children, and   recalling   its   previous   recommendation (CRC/C/NZL/CO/3-4, para. 35), the Committee urges the State party to:

(a) Promptly  take  measures  to  eradicate  the  use  of  violence  and  abuse  of children  in  State  care,  including  in  the  form  of  restraints  and  detention,  and  ensure that  all  professionals  and  staff  working  with  and  for  children  are  provided  with  the necessary  training  and  supervision,  and  are  subjected  to  the  necessary  background checks;

(b) Promptly investigate incidents of violence and abuse of children in State care, prosecute suspects and duly sanction perpetrators and ensure that child victims have   access   to   child-friendly   reporting   channels,   physical   and   psychological rehabilitation, and health services, including mental health services;

(c) Develop   a   comprehensive   strategy   to   combat   abuse   and   neglect encompassing  all  children  in  all  settings, with  particular  attention  to  Maori  and Pasifika children and children with disabilities;

(d) 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;

(e) Regularly   monitor   and   analyse   the   effectiveness   of   the   Vulnerable Children’s  Plan,  the  Violence  Intervention  Programme,  and  the  National  Child Protection  Alert  System  and  other  policies  and  programmes  against  child  abuse  and neglect;

(f) Allocate    sufficient    human,    technical    and    financial    resources to Children’s Teams and other frontline services to adequately respond to reported cases of child abuse;

(g) Further   strengthen   awareness-raising   and   education   programmes, including  campaigns,  to  prevent  and  combat  child  abuse,  with  the  involvement  of children,  with  particular  attention  to  Maori  and  Pasifika  children  and  children  with disabilities.

Sexual exploitation and abuse

24. While  welcoming  the  development  of  a  Child Sex Offender  Register,  the Committee  recalls  its  previous  recommendation  (CRC/C/NZL/CO/3-4  of  2011,  para. 52), raises attention to target 5.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals on eliminating all  forms  of  violence  against  all  women  and  girls  in  the  public  and  private  sphere, including  sexual  and  other  types  of  exploitation,  and  recommends  that  the  State party:

(a) Intensify  its  efforts  to  combat  sexual  abuse  of  children  and  establish mechanisms,  procedures  and  guidelines  to  ensure  mandatory  reporting  of  cases  of child sexual abuse, with particular attention to ethnicity, gender and disability;

(b) 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;

(c) Conduct  awareness-raising  activities  to  prevent  sexual  abuse,  including incest,  combat  the  stigmatization  of  victims  of  such  abuse,  and  ensure  accessible, confidential, child-friendly and effective reporting channels for such violations."

The Committee's comments on family environment and alternative care are reproduced below:

"Family environment

26. The  Committee  recalls  its  previous  recommendation  (CRC/C/NZL/CO/3-4, para.   32) and   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 Maori and Pasifika populations, culturally appropriate services to enable them to fulfil their parental role.

Children deprived of a family environment

27. The Committee welcomes the reports of the Children’s Commissioner on the State of Care 2015 and 2016 and of the Modernising Child, Youth and Family Expert Panel, and the  State  Party’s commitment  to  respond  to  their  recommendations.  The  Committee  is however seriously concerned about:

(a) Deficiencies in the State party’s care system, including  lack of consideration for the best interests of the child and for the views of the child regarding decisions directly affecting  her  or  him;  and  lack  of  clarity  regarding  a  child-centred  approach  leading  to inconsistent  practices  towards  children,  in  particular  Maori  children  and  children  with disabilities;

(b) Enduring inadequate cultural capability of  the  State  care  system,  despite recent efforts, which disproportionally impacts Maori  families and children,  who  make  up over half of the children in State care;

(c) Inadequate resources allocated to care placements, including insufficient case oversight   and   training   for   care   personnel,   and   to   caregivers,   which   hinders   their recruitment,  and  hurdles  faced  by  permanent  caregivers  to  obtain  special  guardianship, which  may  negatively  affect  the  child’s  well-being  and  be  contrary  to  his  or  her  best interests;

(d) Insufficient  data  on children’s  outcomes,  including  regarding  education, health and well-being, while in care and after they leave;

(e) The State party’s intent to outsource some  care  services to private  providers in the absence of appropriate accountability frameworks.

28. Drawing the State party’s attention to the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of  Children  (General  Assembly  resolution  64/142,  annex),  the Committee urges the State party to:

(a) When  reforming  the  care  system, ensure  that  the  best  interests  of  the child  are  taken  into  account  as  a  primary  consideration  in  every  case  and  that  the child is heard in all matters affecting her or him; ensure a common understanding of a   child-centred   approach   across   the   care   system;   and   regularly   monitor   the implementation of the reform and its impact on children’s outcomes, with particular attention to Maori children and children with disabilities;

(b) Strengthen  its  efforts  to  improve  the  cultural  capability  of  care  and protection system and its engagement with Maori communities, the whanau (extended family), hapū (sub-tribal groupings)    and iwi (tribal groups), including by implementing the recommendations of the Children’s Commissioner’s 2015 ‘State of Care’ report, with a view to addressing the overrepresentation of Maori children in State care;

(c) Allocate  adequate  human,  technical  and  financial  resources  to  care services, in particular care placement, case oversight and care givers and ensure that the  child’s  best  interests  are  taken  into  account  as  a  primary  consideration  in guardianship decisions;

(d) Improve the data collection on children’s outcomes, including regarding education,  health  and  well-being,  while  they  are  in  care  and  after  they  leave  care,  to adopt evidence-based approaches to improving the care and protection system;

(e) Ensure  that  any  outsourcing  to  private  care  service  providers  is  closely monitored for compliance with the provisions of the Convention;

(f) Ensure  that  the  reform  of  Child,  Youth  and  Family  is  supported  by  adequate human, technical, financial and organizational resources so that children’s rights  are  fully  respected  during  the  transition  to  the  new  operating  model  and afterwards."

The Minister responded with a statement:

Minister responds to UNCROC findings, Beehive: Anne Tolley, 08.10.2016

Updated:

Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa has published a brief overview of the UN Concluding Observations.