Is there a link between poverty and child homicide in New Zealand?

New Zealand's most socially deprived suburbs (represented by green shading) are disproportionately represented in child ...

New Zealand's most socially deprived suburbs (represented by green shading) are disproportionately represented in child homicide statistics.

The most deprived parts of New Zealand are overwhelmingly represented in the country's child homicide statistics.

A Stuff analysis of 187 victims* of child homicide since 1992 found that 42 were from suburbs that scored 10 (for most deprived) out of 10 on the 2013 Social Deprivation Index. A further 37 were from suburbs that scored 9, while only three were from suburbs that scored 1 (least deprived).

The majority of victims - 73.5 per cent - were from suburbs with a Social Deprivation Index score of 6 or greater.

The Social Deprivation Index calculates the level of deprivation in an area using census data on subjects such as income, employment, home ownership and living space.

Nowhere is this divide more starkly illustrated than the suburbs of Auckland. There is a clear east-west divide south of the city centre between the haves and the have-nots and the suburbs with high levels of social deprivation are dotted with cases of child homicide.

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By contrast, in the more affluent eastern suburbs, just a few minutes drive to the other side of the Southern Motorway, there have been almost no cases since 1992.

It's a pattern repeated throughout almost all of New Zealand's major cities.

This map shows the four deaths (centre) all in close proximity to one another, in or near the Christchurch suburb of ...

This map shows the four deaths (centre) all in close proximity to one another, in or near the Christchurch suburb of Linwood. Darker green indicates more socially deprived areas.

The Christchurch suburb of Linwood, one of the most deprived in the city according to the 2013 Social Deprivation Index (it scores a 9), is no stranger to these kinds of tragedies. In fact there have been four violent child deaths in one small part of the suburb since 1994.  

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Earlier this year, one-year-old Aaliyah Ashlyn Chand of Worcester St became the latest baby to meet a violent death here. Her babysitter has been charged with the murder. Chand became the fourth victim within about 1.5km of her Worcester St address.

Just a few doors down the street in October 1994, five-month-old Jeanette Rikihana received the fatal head and internal injuries that would lead to her eventual death at Christchurch Hospital. Her father Soulan Pownceby (then known as Soulan Rikihana) was convicted of her manslaughter.

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In May 1997, one-year-old Shae Hammond died from head injuries at the hands of his babysitter, Elizabeth Healy, who was later convicted of murder.

To the north of Worcester St on Trent St, in 2006, Staranise Waru received the shaking injuries that would ultimately kill her on February 18. No one has ever been charged in relation to Waru's death and a homicide investigation remains open.

Family violence death review committee member Professor Dawn Elder said poverty was just one of many complex factors involved when a child was killed.

"We see these cases across the spectrum. I don't think that there's any bit of society that is exempt."

Violence was a trait passed down from generation to generation and the cycle of violence was a difficult one to break, Elder said.

Having worked as a paediatrician since the 1980s, she had seen child abuse victims who later came to authorities' attention as adults, repeating abuse against their own kids. 

"The pattern of harm can certainly go from generation to generation," she said.

"We need to not talk about these people as 'bad people' - but people who need our care and support."

* Only cases for which we could ascertain the child's home address and thus the Social Deprivation Index score for the suburb they lived in.

** The interactive map features only those cases for which there was no suppression of names or locations.

 - Stuff

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