UN Racial Discrimination Committee recommends inquiry into abuse in state care

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The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has published its Concluding observations on the combined twenty-first and twenty-second periodic reports of New Zealand.

The Committee considered New Zealand’s reports at meetings held on 15 and 16 August 2017 (scroll down to 'New Zealand' for documents).

In its report (CERD/C/NZL/CO/21-22), the Committee commends the New Zealand Government for "Acknowledging that social inequities exist today between racial groups and the acceptance by the State party of responsibility to correct them." The Committee also welcomes recent efforts to establish policies, programmes and administrative measures to ensure further the protection of human rights and implementation of the Convention.

The Committee expresses concern about the lack of a current national action plan on racism and recommends that the Race Relations Commissioner play a leadership role in developing, in consultation with all stakeholders, a National Plan of Action Against Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia.

The Committee expresses alarm at "reports of the alleged abuse of children in foster care or state institutions that are alleged to have included physical, sexual and emotional abuse" focussed on a period of 40 years. It notes that the majority of children taken into state care over that time were Māori children. The Committee notes the Government has expressed its intention to compensate victims however is concerned that such an approach "will fail to expose the systemic problems that may have existed."

The Committee also expresses concerned that Māori children are still more likely to be placed in state care. It notes the recent amendments to the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Legislation Act 2017) but concerns remain about among other things, the Government's recent proposal to send "young offenders" to a military style boot camp for a year.

The Committee recommends that the State party:

"(a) Immediately set up and empower an independent commission of inquiry into abuse of children and adults with disabilities in state care from 1950 until 1990, with the authority to determine redress, rehabilitation and reparations for victims, including an apology from the State party; and

(b) Take effective steps to reduce the number of Māori and Pasifika children in state care, including through effective and comprehensive application of the policy of "whanau first" placement for tamariki Māori."

Further information on New Zealand and the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination is available from the Ministry of Justice.

Recent research and resources

Mirfin-Veitch, Brigit and Conder, Jenny. (2017) “Institutions are places of abuse”: The experiences of disabled children and adults in State care. Dunedin, New Zealand: Donald Beasley Institute and Human Rights Commission.

Stanley, E. (2016). The Road to Hell: State violence against children in postwar New Zealand. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

Currently, 61% of children in state care and 71% of youth justice admissions are Māori (Office of the Children's Commissioner, State of Care 2016).

Newshub carried out a special investigation into the abuse of children in state care and advocacy in the 1970s, Seen and not heard. After the demands of the Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination (ACORD) for an inquiry were not heeded, in partnership with Ngā Tamatoa and Aranui Inc they held their own inquiry in 1978.

Previous NZFVC news stories

Government criticised for decision to not conduct inquiry into child abuse, December 2016

Report documents abuses of children in state care, August 2015

Selected Media

Student abuse investigations at Dunedin special school viewed as scuppered, 08.10.2017

My speech to the Māori Women’s Welfare League National Hui, Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner, Medium, 27.09.2017

Race Relations push Government for a national apology, Māori Television, 29.09.2017

Inquiry essential for state care fix, Waatea News, 29.09.2017

National Portrait: Sonja Cooper, human rights lawyer, Stuff, 23.09.2017

Closer state care monitoring needed to prevent repeat of historical abuse - advocates, Stuff, 22.09.2017

'Ngā Wāhine Mōrehu' - four women who survived abuse in state care, Newshub, 10.09.2017

State child abuse: Government accused of being 'part of a cover-up', Newshub, 09.09.2017

More victims call for state foster abuse inquiry, Newshub, 07.09.2017

Lessons of past abuse must be learned, Waatea News, 07.09.2017

Abuse claimants welcome UN backing, Waatea News, 31.08.2017

Govt appears unmoved by UN call for abuse inquiry, Radio NZ, 30.08.2017

Court told of caregiver's alleged sexual abuse, NZ Herald, 30.08.2017

Māori Party: UN report backs call for inquiry into state abuse, Waatea News, 30.06.2017

UN recommends inquiry into state care abuse, Radio NZ, 29.08.2017

Devoy asks UN to take action on NZ state care abuse, Radio NZ, 16.08.2017

Katie Bruce: Opinion: Let's try valuing our young people instead of hiding them away in boot camps, Newshub, 14.08.2017

State care abuse survivors: 'We need to see action taken', Radio NZ, 06.08.2017

Maori children in state care - Aotearoa's lost generation, Press release: Human Rights Commission, 02.03.2017