Expert calls for legal protection of Children’s Rights

The Rights of Children should not only be protected but also included in New Zealand’s law, an expert has said.

Professor Paul Hunt, a New Zealander, now at Essex University (UK), made this comment, while speaking at the Human Rights Foundation Annual General Meeting held in Auckland on February 22 in Auckland.

A former UN Special Rapporteur on Health for six years and member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, he also spoke on ‘Poverty in New Zealand: A Human Rights Imperative’ at the Auckland University Law School.

Professor Hunt described how poverty was getting worse in New Zealand, to substantiate which, he provided three indicators. He said that a 2008 study by the Social Development ministry had shown that 19% of children (0-17) had relatively high hardship rates and that rheumatic fever in New Zealand was amongst the worst in the world.

He also pointed to the considerable growth in the use of food banks. He may have been referring to statistics released in December 2010, which showed that the Salvation Army distributed 67,000 during the year compared to 30,000 in 2008.

The culture of our Parliament and public bodies also certainly seems to devalue children. In fact, in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 children are not even entitled to a ‘name’.

New Zealanders often fail to see the significance of the Bill of Rights, which all public bodies are required to follow while ignoring the omissions and therefore the human rights of many, including those of children.

Yet the bottom-up uprisings taking place against top-down control overseas often include demands by the discontented for Constitutional Reform, which often includes human rights.

Sad omission

Women and minority racial groups fought for many years before having their human rights recognised.

But we cannot expect this from children.

New Zealand human rights law, which omits children’s rights, contains less than half the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, largely, in my view, to ensure compatibility with top-down, bureaucratically driven, neo liberalism i.e. State ideology.

While children’s rights were included in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, it was omitted in the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children launched in July 2011.

The UN Human Rights Committee has told New Zealand on three occasions since 1993 to include all the human rights in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer was made Prime Minister for two years (from August 1989 to September 1990, primarily to enact the Bill of Rights.

He said that Bill of Rights provides a set of navigation lights for the whole process of Government to observe and implement.

This indicates that the culture of our Parliament is strongly influenced by the Bill of Rights, requiring the Attorney-General to report to Parliament where the bill appears to be inconsistent with the concept of overall human rights.

The omissions mean the ‘navigation lights’ have been turned off for a large number of New Zealanders, including many children, depriving them of their human rights.

Council Submission

The submission made by the Human Rights Council of New Zealand to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights showed that children, as well as the family were among the worst affected. Also, worst affected have been beneficiaries and the underclass, including small economic and social entrepreneurs, who, in my view, if given the opportunity, would best employ the latter.

Former Justice Minister Simon Power, in his valedictory speech in October 2010 described how Parliament was reluctant to discuss many issues such as abortion, adoption law, children’s rights and sexual violence.

“There are many debates that Parliament does not want to have for fear of losing votes I do not share this timid view. The truth is, if we do not have those debates here, where will we have them?”

Mr Power said he wanted to leave Parliament ‘before idealism left him,’

“The way our court system deals with children is unacceptable – long delays, barbaric practices – all in the name of tradition and precedent,” he said.

Anthony Ravlich is Chairman of the Human Rights Council of New Zealand and author of ‘Freedom from Social Prisons: The Rise of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ reviewed in our February 1, 2012 issue.

Email: anthony_ravlich@yahoo.com

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