Deputy PM Paula Bennett 'can't justify' child abusers' light sentences

Warning: This story contains details that some readers may find upsetting.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett says there are no excuses for the light sentences handed down to a couple who viciously abused their children for almost a year.

The torture dished out by Mangere couple Teresa Kataina and the children's father, who has name suppression, didn't end until teachers at the three eldest children's school reported their injuries to police.

The abuse against the children, aged eight, six, five, three and one, included:

  • smashing their heads against the wall and floor, so hard it left holes
  • pulling them up into the air by their ears
  • taping the three-year-old to the clothesline
  • locking them in wardrobes for a day without food
  • beating with weapons, particularly if the parents found out they'd received food from a teacher
  • removing their bedroom door handles so they couldn't leave
  • locking them up so they could smoke methamphetamine and marijuana without interruption.

Kataina was sentenced to only two-and-a-half years in prison, while the father got 23 months, which he will be allowed to serve outside of prison once a suitable address is found.

The shocking details were revealed on Tuesday at the pair's sentencing.

Speaking on The AM Show on Friday, Ms Bennett said the words she'd like to use to describe the couple weren't suitable for morning television.

"What language do you want me to use?" she asked host Duncan Garner, who told her to say whatever she liked. "Just mongrels, anyone quite frankly who treats their children like that."

She said as a Member of Parliament she wasn't meant to criticise a judge's ruling, but in this case she made an exception.

"I can't give an excuse why they would give that length. It just doesn't seem long enough to me by any means, way or form. I can't justify the judge's decision in this case."

Her counterpart in the Labour Party said no sentence would ever satisfy.

"We're not meant to criticise judges… as a whole though, we're very rarely going to be satisfied by sentences in these cases," said Jacinda Ardern. "There is something so abhorrent the maltreatment of children, particularly at the hands of their parents."

Dame Lesley Max, who runs the Great Potentials Foundation, said the light sentences and lack of media coverage on the case showed how tolerated child abuse is in New Zealand.

"It has been the case for the 30 years I've been researching and working in this field, that crimes against children appear to be punished more lightly than crimes against adults," she told The AM Show.

"The Herald had this case of the five beaten children on page seven. What does that tell us about New Zealand's attitude?"

Ms Bennett said the fact the violence was directed at children should have been an aggravating factor in the sentence, not make it lighter.

"I can't comment on a judge's ruling and that's what they've done, but this is absolutely abhorrent."

Dame Lesley says she can only wait and see whether Saturday's launch of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children makes any difference, but she's optimistic, praising Ms Bennett and Minister for Children Anne Tolley's "conviction".

"By definition, childhood is a period of vulnerability. All children are vulnerable."

The Sensible Sentencing Trust says the abuse was so bad, it's a miracle none of the children were killed.

"The offending these innocent children have sustained is very much in line with what Moko and little Nia Glassie sustained," said spokesman Scott Guthrie.

"Deterrence and punishment are two of the principles of sentencing - both these factors are absent in this sentence, so we can now just wait till the next child gets abused."