UN committee publishes concluding observations on rights of the child
Thu 13 Apr 2023
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has published their concluding observations on New Zealand's 6th report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
UN concluding observations
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released their Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of New Zealand (CRC/C/NZL/CO/6) in February 2023. While acknowledging some positive achievements, the Committee raised a number of concerns about New Zealand's work to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).
Specific to violence against children,
"...the Committee remains seriously concerned about the persistent rates of abuse and neglect of, and violence against, children, particularly domestic violence, noting the higher risk faced by Maori, Pasifika and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children, and children with disabilities. It is further concerned about the limited access to child-friendly reporting channels, physical and psychological rehabilitation and health services, including mental health services, that are available to children who have suffered violence, trauma or abuse."
The Committee also highlighted discrimination and the link to violence and impacts to children's rights, stating:
"The Committee is deeply concerned that discrimination persists against children in situations of vulnerability, including Maori and Pasifika children, children in out-of-family care and children with disabilities, noting especially their restricted ability to benefit from basic services, including education, health and protection, and to enjoy an adequate standard of living. It further notes with deep concern their exposure to higher risks of suicide and of experiencing sexual and domestic violence, school bullying, mental distress, homelessness and transient housing situations. The Committee further takes note of the information provided that the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 prohibit discrimination from the age of 16 only."
They highlighted specific risks of violence to children with disabilities, saying:
"The Committee is deeply concerned that children with disabilities are at higher risk of violence and abuse, and that their families disproportionately experience deprivation, poverty and inadequate housing conditions."
The Committee also highlighted concerns specific to Māori children, stating the Committee was:
"...deeply concerned, however, about the inequitable survival and development outcomes for Māori children, including the disproportionate mortality rate for Māori infants and the suicide rate of Māori youth, the overrepresentation of Maori children who are victims of homicide, family violence, child abuse and neglect, and the number of Māori children in State care and in conflict with the criminal justice system."
The report includes more than 80 recommendations calling on the Government to address children's rights in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Committee highlighted 7 areas where "urgent measures must be taken," to address:
- structural discrimination against children, specifically addressing racism and the exclusion of children under age 16 from the protection of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 (paragraph 16)
- high rates of abuse, neglect and violence experienced by children (paragraph 24)
- policies and procedures related to removing children from their family, and children's rights in out-of-home care (paragraph 28)
- rights and needs of children with disabilities (paragraph 31)
- the significant proportion of children who live in poverty and experience food insecurity and severe housing deprivation (paragraph 35)
- the root causes of vulnerability experienced by Māori children and their families, and the right to identity for Māori children and finalise the national action plan against racism and the action plan on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (paragraph 40)
- bringing the child justice system in line with UNCROC (paragraph 43).
Several of these areas include multiple recommendations. For example, under violence against children, the Committee recommended improving data collection, adequately resourcing the Action Plan for Te Aorerekura, access to services for children who are victims of violence, mandatory reporting, and investing in culturally-specific, community-based initiatives.
Other relevant recommendations
In addition, the Committee made 2 recommendations addressing the Government's changes to the role of the Children's Commissioner and the process for monitoring and making complaints related to Oranga Tamariki (paragraph 12). These included that the Children and Young People’s Commission should be fully resourced and children should have the ability to report violations of their rights.
The Committee made 4 recommendations that relate to children's rights for their views to be heard in proceedings related to Family Court and Oranga Tamariki (paragraph 19), including:
- ensure children’s right to have their views heard in processes such as custody cases, child welfare decisions and cases concerning criminal justice, immigration and the environment
- assess the legislative amendments which mandate consultation with children including the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (section 5 (1) (a)), the Children’s Act 2014 (section 6D), the Care of Children Act 2004 (section 6) and the Education and Training Act 2020
- require independent children’s lawyers to have direct contact with the children they represent in the family courts
- facilitate children’s access to a complaints mechanism when their right to be heard is violated in judicial and administrative proceedings, and facilitate access to an appeals procedure.
Oranga Tamariki has commented "These Concluding Observations span a broad range of government portfolios and agencies, and they provide a guide on how Aotearoa New Zealand can further improve the lives of tamariki and rangatahi. Each recommendation will be carefully considered..."
Reports from Children's Commissioner and non-government agencies
As part of the monitoring process, other individuals and organisations submit reports to the UN Committee to consider.
In the NZ Children's Commissioner's Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child - 2022, Children's Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers identified 3 priorities including inclusive and equitable education for mokopuna, prioritising the mental wellbeing of mokopuna, and ending family violence and helping families heal. Specific to family violence, the Commissioner recomends the Government "Ensure mokopuna and their whānau are active partners in the design and delivery of Te Aorerekura."
The Children's Rights Alliance also submitted a Comprehensive Alternative Report on Aotearoa New Zealand (2022). They identified 8 priorities for urgent attention including greater respect for the rights of tāmariki Māori as tāngata whenua and under the Children’s Convention; an end to discrimination and racism particularly for tamariki Māori, Pasifika children, disabled Children and children from refugee and migrant backgrounds; protecting children from violence and abuse, including violence prevention; and support for families and whānau, so all children can know and, as far as possible, be cared for by their families. Their report includes many recommendations related to violence, abuse and neglect of children.
Deputy Chair of Children’s Rights Alliance Aotearoa, Dr Claire Achmad said:
“Overall, New Zealand tends to overlook children as citizens; active participants in and contributors in their lives, the lives of their whānau and communities. ...Through our civil society reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, it is clear that we still have a long way to go to make all children’s rights real in Aotearoa.”
Many organisations, advocates and experts also submitted reports to the UN Committee, including:
- Children in State Care Thematic Report, submitted by VOYCE Whakarongo-Mai
- Rights of Tamariki Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand Thematic Report, submitted by Te Puna Rangahau o Te Wai Ariki | Aotearoa New Zealand Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law
- New Zealand Indigenous Tamariki Voices Thematic Report, submitted by Hāpai te Hauora Tāpui | Ngā Rangatahi ā Iwi
- Thematic Report from The Backbone Collective.
All reports submitted as part of the monitoring process are available on the UN Treaty Body Database webpage for the Convention on the Rights of the Child 92 Session (16 Jan 2023 - 03 Feb 2023), see the list of reports under info from civil society organizations, info from NHRIs and info from other stakeholders.
Every 5 years the Government reports to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on progress implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This process involves the UN Comittee issuing a list of questions for the Government to respond to. The Government prepares a draft report and seeks public consultation, before preparing and submitting a final report to the UN Committee. This work is led by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). For more information and these documents, see the MSD webpage on Reporting - United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
New Zealand Government representatives then present the final report to and answer questions from the UN Committee, before the Committee finalises their concluding observations. You can watch the recording of the 92nd Session, Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) consideration of New Zealand (see the UN Web TV day 1 and day 2). You can also read a summary from Children's Rights Alliance representatives who attended the session (see Day 1 summary and Day 2 summary).
The Office of the Children's Commissioner advocates on behalf of children for their rights to be upheld in Aotearoa New Zealand. Specific to UNCROC, the Children's Commissioner is responsible for raising awareness and understanding of the Convention and advancing and monitoring how the Government applies the Convention to improve outcomes for mokopuna.
Update: Dr Luke Fitzmaurice-Brown (Te Aupōuri) spoke at the Socio-Legal Studies Association conference on Does the UNCRC still fit for Indigenous peoples? Or are alternative frameworks required? in April 2023.
In December 2022, the Government agreed to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure (OPCP). This allows the UN Committee to explore complaints that New Zealand has breached its obligations under UNCROC through 3 ways, outlined by MSD:
- "complaints can be submitted by, or on behalf of, an individual or group of individuals
- the UN Committee can inquire into alleged grave or systematic violations; and
- State parties can make complaints of violations where both State parties have opted into the inter-State communications process."
Update: The Cabinet paper Acceding to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure: Approval of Government Response was published in May 2023.
Work is underway to support child rights mainstreaming at the United Nations. ‘Child rights mainstreaming’ at the UN is about ensuring that a child rights approach is consistently integrated by all UN entities, across the 3 pillars of the UN (development, human rights and peace and security) and at all levels (global, regional and national). A draft UN Guidance Note on Child Rights Mainstreaming was published in February 2023.
The 4th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Aotearoa New Zealand's human rights record will take place in 2024. As part of the review, the government is currently inviting the public to participate in public hui. Following the hui, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will work with other government agencies to produce a first draft of the national report. For more information, see the Te Kāhui Tika Tangata | the Human Rights Commission.
Recent research of children and young people's experiences
VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai published Whakamānawatia tōku taiao! He hononga rangatira! Honour my world – my noble connections (2022). The report summarises research that looked at why few rangatahi in state care have accessed supports to help them transition to adulthood.
The National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges has developed 2 resources drawing on their research about tamariki experiences of Women's Refuge. Hear it from me and other tamariki (2022) is a book for adults woho want to know more about tamariki and their experiences of women's refuge. The Tamariki refuge workbook (2022) is a booklet is designed for women's refuge advocates to work through with children. For more information, see their research report, Kids in the Middle (2021).
ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited) published 2 research reports and practice guidelines looking at how to address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who have been exposed to domestic and family violence.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre published I believe you: Children and young people’s experiences of seeking help, securing help and navigating the family violence system (2023) and Young people’s experiences of identity abuse in the context of family violence: A Victorian study (2023).
Findings from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study found that 62.2% of the Australian population has experienced at least one type of child maltreatment. The study surveyed over 8500 people in Australia to determine prevalance of 5 types of child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic violence) and associated outcomes.