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A sponsorship programme used to feed starving children in Third World countries is now being used to help poor Kiwi kids.
Children's charity Variety has launched a scheme that allows people to sponsor an individual Kiwi child living below the poverty line for $35 a month, or about $1.15 a day.
The money will pay for things such as school trips, stationery, doctor's visits, books and prescriptions.
The Kiwi Kid sponsorship initiative has been widely applauded, but opposition parties say it should serve as a "massive red flag" to the Government that it is not doing enough for financially disadvantaged children.
The Children's Commissioner estimates there are 270,000 Kiwi children living in poverty.
The programme was piloted in October last year. Currently there are 75 children in Auckland and Christchurch receiving $35 a month and another 120 on the books waiting to be sponsored. Talks to extend the scheme to Wellington are likely to start in March.
Variety chief executive Lorraine Taylor said donors could write to their sponsored child, receive regular updates about their health and wellbeing, and were provided with a breakdown at the end of the year detailing where their money went.
Research showed a disproportionate number of children were missing out on the basics, she said.
"People agree poverty is an issue in New Zealand and this is a tangible way of doing your bit to help a child."
The Kiwi Kid sponsorship scheme has been running at Pt England Primary School in Glen Innes since last year, and principal Russell Burt said it directly targeted children to ensure they got the benefits of donors' money.
"The reality is the average adult income in the community where I'm from is $19,000," he said.
"You don't need very much to go wrong, and all of a sudden you can't pay for things your kids really want and need."
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett welcomed the initiative, saying society as a whole needed to play its part and face some of the country's problems.
She denied Variety was doing the Government's work, saying she would ensure help was available for New Zealanders who needed it.
"But when welfare dependence becomes long-term and inter-generational, it can also become a big part of the problem," she said.
"Often communities and non-government organisations can get alongside families better than government can."
Bennett pointed out that initiatives such as the White Paper for Vulnerable Children, free visits to doctors and after-hours clinics for under-6s, and insulating all state houses by the end of this year, had a particular focus on child poverty.
But Labour social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said two out of five children living in poverty were in the homes of the "working poor", so it was unfair for Bennett to blame child poverty on welfare dependency.
"This should be a massive red flag to the Government. We are not a Third World country but we have Third World diseases and children suffering as a consequence."
Green Party children spokeswoman Holly Walker said that, if Government was not making sure every child was growing up with the essentials they needed, then it had failed its "social contract" with the country.
"It's like Fonterra's Milk in Schools programme - great initiative, but I think it shows a failure of the Government to get it right.
"For me, it does raise the real question of why we've allowed things to get to the stage where we're relying on charities to fill the gap."
Chris Clarke, chief executive of World Vision New Zealand, which looks after about 70,000 children overseas through its "dollar-a-day" child sponsorship programme, said he did not feel threatened by the Variety initiative.
The organisation had considered arranging sponsorship for New Zealand children but felt it was best to support other organisations that wanted to do so.
WHAT'S ON OFFER FOR SCHOOLS
KidsCan – 233 schools receive clothing and food.
Care Share and Wear – clothing donations for low-decile schools.
Breakfast Club – free Weet-bix and milk up to twice a week for decile 1 and 2 primary school children.
Fruit in Schools – a piece of fruit a day for decile 1 and 2 primary school children.
Milk for Schools – all primary schools can opt in and receive packs of milk.
- The Dominion Post