Human Rights Commission backing calls for an investigation into abuse in state care

  • 13/02/2017
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley (Simon Wong/ Newshub.)
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley (Simon Wong/ Newshub.)

The Government is facing increasing calls for an inquiry into abuse in state care, with the Human Rights Commission the latest to urge a full investigation.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has described the abuse of more than a thousand children in state care between the 1950s and 1980s as "abhorrent" but has again rejected claims the government must investigate the full extent of the abuse.

The Human Rights Commission has written to Prime Minister Bill English outlining the necessity for an inquiry to determine the extent of abuse and calling for an apology to be made to all those affected, including the abused, their families and whanau.

As at September last year, the Ministry for Social Development has received 1370 direct claims of abuse prior to 1993.

"We know from their stories that many New Zealanders who were placed in government institutions suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse inflicted by staff, social workers, caregivers, teachers, clergy, cooks, gardeners, night watchmen and even other children and patients," the HRC letter says.

It suggests the abuse has a "disproportionately negative impact" on Maori and disabled people.

"We must understand what took place and learn how and why vulnerable children, teenagers and adults could be abused within the system that was supposed to care for them."

The letter has been signed by prominent New Zealanders including Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy, Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford, members of the Iwi Leaders Forum and the Maori Womens' Welfare League.

It follows a recommendation made by Judge Carolyn Henwood who chaired the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service panel that heard stories from more than 1100 abuse victims.

Labour, the Green Party and Maori Party all released statements on Monday backing the calls.

"We must acknowledge publicly the mistreatment of so many young children in state care. There should be an independent inquiry; their voices need to be heard," Labour children's spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said in a statement.

Green Party social development spokeswoman Jan Logie said it seemed everyone but the government realised an inquiry and formal apology were essential to helping victims find closure.

Maori party co-leader Marama Fox described the victims as New Zealand's lost generations.

"We absolutely support the commission's call for those who haven't been able to share their stories to do so. This government needs to listen to them and learn from them so that abuse never happens again," she said.

Ms Tolley has previously ruled out an inquiry, saying it would require victims to relive their experiences when they have already settled claims with the government.

She also rejected calls for a blanket apology, preferring to give a personal apology to those who come forward.

In a statement on Monday, Ms Tolley reiterated she was "more than happy" to apologise to anyone who went through the "traumatic experience".