Children's charity calls for immediate action over child abuse

Warning: This story contains disturbing details of child abuse.

Three Kiwi children have already died from alleged child abuse this year - that's three deaths in just nine weeks.

They coincide with the jailing of a Rotorua woman, Leza Rawiri, who watched a young boy being beaten to death by his father two years ago.

A children's charity that trains people to identify and then respond to child abuse says the Government needs to take action now.

It's been two years since Ferro James Sio was murdered, but his aunty, Tracy Lambert, still wants to keep him close.

For her it's the little things: his sock, his framed photo, and his school bag that still hangs in the home filled with his favourite things.

They are poignant and lasting reminders of the innocent little schoolboy with the big smile who was beaten to death by his idol - his dad.

"He thought the sun shone out of his dad's butt. He had nothing but good stuff to say about his dad. 'I love my dad, when's my dad coming back', just like any other child I know," Lambert tells Newshub.

But in February 2020, his dad beat him to death in a cramped emergency housing room in Rotorua. It had followed months of ill-treatment and neglect. Ferro was just five years old.

Ferro James Sio.
Ferro James Sio. Photo credit: Supplied

"One of the worst things that I can't get out of my head is that he hurt Ferro so bad that the muscle of his bum was detached from the rest of him," Lambert says.

William James Sio was jailed for life for murder last year, and last month his girlfriend, Leza Rawiri, was put behind bars for nearly six years. She was there when Ferro died but did nothing.

"I'm a person who is connected with a lot of victims of abuse. I've listened to stories and stories and I still missed the signs," Lambert says.

Ferro would stay with Lambert, his aunty, for weeks on end, but she only saw a happy and loving wee boy. She had no idea he was being abused because he'd been trained to say nothing. 

Sadly, this isn't a one-off story and Ferro isn't a one-off victim. On average, a child is killed every five weeks in New Zealand, making us among the worst offenders in the world. 

It's already been a tragic start to 2022 with three children dead in just the first nine weeks. 

Jane Searle, CEO of Child Matters, a nationwide charity that trains people to identify abuse and then respond, says there's "no doubt" it's getting worse in New Zealand.

"There's many reasons for that. It's alongside child poverty getting worse, our mental health system is not coping, increased use of methamphetamine - all these things contribute to the issue," she tells Newshub.

Searle is a former solicitor and police detective. She says it's important for adults to take notice.

"I think it's really important to remember that children cannot stop abuse, but adults can, but to do that adults need to take notice and then they need to take action."

She says simple steps could save lives, including mandatory training for teachers and health professionals and the mandatory vetting of coaches and volunteers who work with kids. 

Tracy Lambert.
Tracy Lambert. Photo credit: Newshub.

Ferro's aunty agrees, saying education will help outwit the abusers.

"The people who hurt these children, they're going to wrap them up on a hot summer's day, they're going to take them on unexpected holidays where they are sheltered away from the community, away from the family," Lambert says.

"They are not going to let the child advertise that they are being abused, they are going to make an effort to keep it a secret."

Lambert doesn't want New Zealand to forget Ferro and she says child abuse can't become the norm. Instead, identifying and responding is key, or better yet, stop the abuse altogether. 

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