Court-ordered baby ban backlash

Last updated 08:24 07/06/2012
Opinion poll

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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There has been a political backlash to Cabinet considering tougher measures to remove babies from abusive parents, but Prime Minister John Key insists the country needs to face up to an "uncomfortable conversation" about child abuse.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday said Cabinet had discussed allowing courts to issue warnings to parents during sentencing that they faced having subsequent children taken off them, potentially permanently.

"At the moment, [abusive parents] could live with or have future children and it would be taken on its merits at that point. We actually don't even do that with dogs that have been abused - there can be a sanction put on that you cannot own a dog for two years or five years, yet we don't do that with children," Bennett said.

"So we are looking at measures like should you not be able to live in the house with children or work with children if you have been at that serious end of abuse or neglect."

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.

But Key said there needed to be a conversation about whether authorities should "push a little harder on that policy".

The Government would not support compulsory sterilisation for abusive parents and thought that would make most people uneasy.

"[But] there is a very strong case to say some people are not fit to raise children," Key said.

A government white paper on child abuse was in progress and would spark a sometimes "uncomfortable conversation," Key said.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne, a support party of the Government, said he was "astounded" at the measures being considered.

"I think it's fair enough to expect people who are receiving Government support to honour some responsibilities in respect of that support back to the state. But to intervene in their lives to this extent is, I think, utterly intolerable," Dunne told Radio New Zealand.

He could not support the measures in the way they were being portrayed at the moment.

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell raised concern about a "blanket view" of court intervention was "going a little bit far".

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the proposals were unlikely to save a single child's life, would be impossible to implement and a waste of time and resources that could go into finding "real solutions to keeping kids safe".

"She [Bennett] 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," Turei said.

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Family violence was a complex problem that needed intelligent solutions, Turei said.

"The Minister needs to oversee a mind shift in the approach to family violence that brings all professionals dealing with it together in a shared understanding of what family violence is, and what causes it, and then agree on common goals and strategies to tackle it."

- Stuff

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