Protesters rally for Moko

March for Moko Rotorua (Bradley Ambrose)
March for Moko Rotorua (Bradley Ambrose)

Thousands of demonstrators have rallied today, drawn together by anger over the death of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri, the plea bargain taken by his killers and New Zealand's child abuse statistics.

Thirty-seven meetings outside court houses have taken place across New Zealand, organised by the Justice for Moko group. The group says the aim is to unite New Zealanders to say "enough is enough", and to push for changes to the country's plea bargaining laws.

These rallies coincide with the sentencing of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa -- the couple who pleaded guilty to Moko's manslaughter -- at the High Court in Rotorua.

The couple was originally charged with murder after they abused the toddler to death, but were offered a plea bargain deal, which reduced their charges to manslaughter.

Protesters rally for Moko

March for Moko Rotorua (Bradley Ambrose)

"It is disappointing that the Prime Minister John Key says there is no need for a review of the way child abuse laws are implemented. The public do not accept that view," said Family First at the Rotorua March for Moko.

"The message has to be clear -- if you violently abuse a child in such a way that it results in their death, then it will be treated as murder.

"Violent child abusers should not get manslaughter when the child victim gets a life sentence. Moko's case continues to set an ongoing and dangerous precedent for other child abuse cases.

"Children should not be part of a 'plea bargain'."

"The message we want to get out there is child abuse is not OK, it's not tolerated in New Zealand. The plea bargaining that's going on in courtrooms around the country is not OK; we oppose it," says Moko Auckland protest organiser Jeanine Perkinson. 

Protesters rally for Moko

March for Moko Rotorua (Ron Heydon/Newshub.)

"We oppose what's happening in New Zealand at the moment. We are not going to stand by and let this carry on. We are doing something about it."

Nicola Dally-Paki, the mother of toddler Moko Rangitoheriri, has spoken of her anguish at the sentencing of her son's killers.

The rain wasn't enough to deter residents in Christchurch, who gathered at The Common in the city centre to show their support for Moko.

"A wee bit of cold and rain is nothing compared to what these children have suffered," says South Island Sensible Sentencing Trust victims adviser Jayne Crothall.

"We can go home, we can be warm and those little children can't."

Ms Crothall addressed the crowd on behalf of the Sensible Sentencing Trust and says New Zealand has a problem it needs to acknowledge.

Protesters performed an emotional haka in remembrance of Moko before releasing balloons into the air.

Lanessa Roberts, who was there protesting, says the law needs to change.

Protesters rally for Moko

March for Moko Christchurch (Brooke Hobson/Newshub.)

"These people are getting away with murder," she says. "Sign the petition."

"Send them to prison without nothing [sic], no parole, no bargaining -- life should be life."

"That kid can't come out of the ground or [be brought] back to life."

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