Too many Taranaki children are becoming ill and dying because of the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, paediatrician Nicola Nelson says.
Dr Nelson painted a harrowing picture of Taranaki's child poverty problem at an election forum discussing children's rights and interests held at Devon Intermediate School on Wednesday night.
About 40 people turned out to see Plunket Community Service leader Mahina Leong, Devon Intermediate principal Fiona Parkinson, chief executive of the Taranaki Kindergarten Association Cherie Boyd and Nelson speak and ask the hard questions of local election candidates.
New Plymouth was ranked as one of the world's most liveable cities and its children should be flourishing, but many of them were not, Nelson said.
"Many of our children are being born into lives of disadvantage; they are getting sick and dying at far greater rates than their wealthier counterparts.
"I believe as citizens of Aotearoa this is an inequity that we should not be willing to tolerate."
Nelson said children were affected not only by poverty but other issues such as parental addiction and severe domestic violence.
As a doctor she saw children with respiratory and skin infections, disproportionately Maori and Pacific Islanders.
She also saw behavioural problems, which flooded schools, social services and paediatric clinics and were a symptom of a greater social problem.
"I want you to close your eyes and imagine a child lying awake at night listening to her parents fight, and in the morning she's told her mother is too unwell to see, then she is sent to school without any breakfast.
"Do you think she's going to arrive ready to learn?"
Nelson said hospital admissions for children with serious infections had risen in the last 20 years, correlating with the economic reforms of the 1990s.
She said the primary determinants of disease were mainly economic and social.
"The good news is that child poverty is not inevitable. It results from deliberate political decisions related to economic and social welfare courses."
New Plymouth National MP Jonathan Young was put in the hot seat several times by members of the audience on topics such as charter schools, the minimum wage and the 56 empty state houses in New Plymouth.
Boyd pressed Young as to whether he would support registration of early childhood teachers, to which he responded he did not know enough to make a comment.
Green Party candidate Sarah Roberts drew on her 25 years' experience in the education sector.
She said teachers played a huge role in eliminating child poverty.
"Raising the status of the [teaching] profession and investing in good professional development is the solution," she said.
Labour's Andrew Little received applause for his promise Labour would appoint a Minister for Children and oppose national standards in schools.
- Taranaki Daily News
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