Maori 'need to tackle abuse'

Maori in New Zealand need to take responsibility and find Maori solutions for a terrible record of child abuse, a leading Maori child advocate says.

Anton Blank, executive director of Maori child advocacy group Rariki, made the comments while speaking at the Women's Refuge conference, Whanau of Tomorrow, in Blenheim on Friday.

Child abuse, especially among Maori, was New Zealand's most serious social issue and Maori needed to take responsibility for the issue and work together for solutions, he said.

There are 21,000 substantiated cases of child abuse a year in New Zealand, while New Zealand also has the third-highest rate of child deaths by maltreatment in the OECD, with an average of nine children a year being killed, he said. Half of the children killed are Maori, with 1-year-old Maori children the most likely to be beaten to death, he said.

Maori children are twice as likely to be maltreated than other children, while Maori women are seven times more likely to be admitted to hospital and are more likely to experience physical violence and sexual abuse than other groups, he said.

There was a very close relationship between poverty and abuse among Maori, and that needed to be addressed urgently, he said.

"In 20 years, four out of every 10 children in New Zealand will be Maori or Pasifika. What we're watching is an explosion in brown poverty," he said.

Mr Blank helped found Rariki after organising a Maori summit on child abuse in 2007, following the death of Nia Glassie and comments from families commissioner Christine Rankin criticising the unwillingness of New Zealanders to speak up about Maori child abuse. The group funds research, advocates for children and promotes Maori values as a way to bring down abuse rates.

Research it funded into traditional Maori parenting showed that in the past hitting children was anathema to Maori. Early European settlers recorded that Maori children were better brought up than their own.

Maori needed to reclaim those values, instead of all too quickly blaming colonisation, he said.

"We need to stop blaming our history for the crisis. Only we can solve the problem, and research shows us how effective by Maori for Maori solutions are."

Abuse rates were the same among Maori as the rest of the population before 1980, but shot up following economic restructuring in the 1980s and again following welfare reforms in 1993, and poverty was still growing in Maori and Pasifika families, he said.

The Marlborough Express