Over the past few weeks the Minister for Social Development and Youth Affairs, Paula Bennett, has provoked some controversy first by suggesting that free (voluntary) contraception be available to beneficiaries and their children, and then suggesting that children should be removed from previous child abusers.
For a government that portrays itself as being opposed to the “nanny state” I find this surprising. What I find even more surprising is that, to a large extent, I agree with Paula Bennett.
Over the past few years it has become quite clear that New Zealand has a deplorable record when it comes to child abuse. Statistically, New Zealand has the 5th worst record on child abuse out of 31 OECD countries and in the media we have seen some horrific cases.
For those growing up in non-abusive families it can be easy to underestimate the damage that child abuse does to our society. This was me 18 years ago before I taught secondary school for a short period of time. During this time I met a lot of children with behavioural problems most of the which were the result of poor and abusive parenting. I still remember going home exhausted and crying because of the damage I could see and didn’t have a hope in hell of “fixing”. (This is also why I have incredible respect for those who choose teaching as a career).
I also have two good friends who adopted a school age child who turned up flea ridden and unwashed, unable to use a knife and fork or toilet himself properly. It has taken them years for this boy to learn what most people would consider basic skills, and not to flinch when he does something wrong. I think he now has a very good chance of growing into an intelligent young man who will be a productive member of society. I hate to think what would of happened to him if he hadn’t been rescued from a neglectful environment.
Many opponents to Paula Bennett’s proposals focus on the “rights” of a parent, but never mention the responsibilities. Some politicize and exaggerate these proposals suggesting that next there will be forced sterilization.
New Zealand has a terrible record when it comes to the abuse of children. We need to do better. While I would prefer to see this achieved through better education of parents, I think there is a good case for making sure those who have demonstrated that they are incapable of raising children without abusing them.
I suspect the reason that this proposal will be vigorously opposed it that there will be much concern over what would/is considered child abuse. Parents are not perfect, most will lose their temper at one stage or another, shouting or even hitting a child. While this is not ideal, so long as Ms Bennett focuses on those who perpetually abuse or neglect children I think this could be a good move. Indeed, in my darker, more frustrated moods, sometimes even the idea of forced sterilization seems appealing.