Child abuse not someone else's problem - expert

Justice Minister Amy Adams (AAP)
Justice Minister Amy Adams (AAP)

Every five weeks on average a Kiwi kid dies at the hands of someone known to them, often a relative or caregiver.

Three-year-old Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri is the latest name behind the awful statistic. He died on Monday after being admitted to Taupo Hospital with critical injuries.

A 26-year-old woman and a 43-year-old man from Taupo have been charged with assault on a child, and will appear in Rotorua District Court today.

Anthea Simcock, head of child abuse education organisation Child Matters, says the deaths won't end until New Zealanders stop assuming it's someone else's problem to fix.

"It's the background for 30 years of my work. I would say in a nutshell it's because we tolerate it," she said on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

"We often sit back and say, 'What's the Government going to do? Who should we blame?' But until we as a nation stand up and say, 'It's not the Government's fault, it's our responsibility – what else can we do?' I doubt that we will get on top of it."

She says the deaths are only the tip of the iceberg; the sadly inevitable conclusion of lives spent suffering.

"Even the police will tell you, last year there were over 1000 children for whom there were assaults that they investigated that they proved. Now, they were the ones that came to their attention… there are a lot that didn't. There are hundreds and hundreds of children that are living with this horror and this abuse every day.

"You think of these children that die – they're not just statistics. These little vulnerable children, most of them, that was not the first time. They had lived with this."

Justice Minister Amy Adams last week proposed a dramatic overhaul of domestic violence laws. Ms Simcock hopes Ms Adams' efforts it will spark on ongoing discussion around family violence and child abuse.

"You have to bring it to everyone's attention once again. It seems to die out, and I have conversations with people who tell me things that they have just discovered, as if they were born again, as if I didn't know these things.

"We've got to talk about it and talk about it so that people do take it to heart and say, 'Yes, it is up to me to think about what I can do.'"

She proposes educating people on how to spot the signs of child abuse, and what to do when they suspect it's happening in their neighbourhood.

"There are two types of people – there are people that are suspicious who will say, 'You know, I was worried about that child…' And there's another group who are blithely unaware, who never suspected anything because they just didn't know what was going on in front of them… not because they are bad people, but because they thought these things just didn't happen," says Ms Simcock.

"It would be so much more helpful to these children who rely on the people around them if they had some knowledge of what to look for and what to do about it, because the kids rely on us."

The Greens and Labour have backed Ms Adams' proposals, but have concerns the wide-ranging changes won't get the funding they need to be effective.

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