Sterilisation not on Government agenda

Last updated 05:00 07/06/2012
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What powers should courts have over parents who neglect or abuse their children?

Stronger power to remove children from them

Banning them from having further children

Forced sterilisation

Existing laws are sufficient

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Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has been forced to hose down suggestions the Government wants to stop parents who have neglected or abused their children from having more babies.

In an interview with Radio Live talkback host Michael Laws last week, Bennett was asked whether the Government would consider a "state-ordered sanction" to prevent such parents having more children.

The Government was "right now discussing that kind of measure", Bennett replied.

"That is a step which is right out there and I can tell you there are certainly discussions going on around it."

The comments led to beneficiary advocate Sue Bradford saying the Government was embarking on a "slippery slope to eugenics" and Christchurch-based anti-child abuse charity Family Help Trust saying it raised human rights issues.

Bennett yesterday clarified the comments, saying the Government was considering strengthening measures to remove babies of parents who seriously abused or neglected their children, but that forced sterilisation or contraception was a "step too far".

Courts already have the ability to remove children from such parents.

In 2011, 148 babies were removed from parents within 30 days of them being born. In 2010, 177 babies were removed.

Most of them had siblings who had been abused or neglected, or parents who suffered mental illness.

Under changes being considered, parents would be warned during court sentencing they faced having subsequent children taken off them, potentially permanently.

Bennett said the Government was also looking at sanctions such as preventing the parent from living or working with children.

Asked why she didn't elaborate her intentions with Laws, Bennett said she made it "quite clear we were looking at the removal of children" but "he chose to ignore it".

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, who last week criticised Bennett for her "vitriolic personal attacks" on solo mothers, said the minister's latest "dog-whistle" comments would have populist appeal but would do nothing to help vulnerable children.

"Regardless of what she really meant, she's had her latest cheap thrill at the expense of real policy.

"She is so busy blaming children and mothers that she is not addressing the fact that thousands of women and children cry out for help each year and are not getting it."

Labour's welfare spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said vulnerable children were already being removed quickly from their parents.

Measures being suggested would not have prevented the death of 2-month-old Rotorua baby Tahi Elvis Edwards who was suffocated by his mother Ngaire Tukiwaho after a day drinking, she said. Child, Youth and Family were unaware Tukiwaho, who lost an earlier baby to sudden infant death syndrome, had given birth to Tahi.

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Bennett said final decisions, including when the threshold measures would kick in, had not been made.

- The Southland Times

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