Editorial: Some other country

Last updated 05:00 22/01/2011

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OPINION: Broken bones. Bruises all over her body. Scalp wounds from being dragged around. Sexual abuse, and anaemia from internal bleeding.

The list of violent indignities that a nine-year-old Auckland girl is alleged to have suffered before she was rescued from her hiding place in a cupboard is truly horrifying.

What is astonishing was that this went on despite the fact that 12 different Government agencies, including Child, Youth and Family, were dealing with the family. Who knew there were 12 different agencies that could help?

Her mother had even written to the Prime Minister for help, obviously a futile act. Her energy would have been better spent more effectively protecting her child.

It sounds like a story from some other country, not ours. Whoever hurt her in such a cruel way is lucky that she is still alive and not in an early grave with all the other victims of appalling abusers that this country breeds.

Hopefully she has a chance of a better life, but, at nine years old, the scars of that abuse will run deep. She certainly deserves every bit of support this country can give her.

In one sense none of this is the Government's fault. People who have children have to take responsibility for them. If they are too irresponsible, lazy, stupid, addicted or uncaring to care for them properly there is only one decent thing to do. They must hand them over to someone who can do that right thing by them.

That is where the rest of the country comes in. We believe that, collectively, we have a duty to help. As taxpayers and as voters we have put a Government in place that will take that responsibility on our behalf. It is clear that our Government is failing in this regard.

Interestingly, the United Nations agrees. This week the UN committee on the rights of the child took us to task over our staggering infant and child mortality rates and the fact that our kids are not well represented in our legislative framework. In particular the UN committee was concerned that the way we allocated resources would not eliminate child poverty, with 20 per cent of our kids falling into the poorest bracket.

This latest case of abuse shows that our system is lousy at allocating resources to the places they are really needed.

Why should the Government be spending millions of taxpayers' dollars on a party in Auckland for the Rugby World Cup when we can't look after kids just down the road?

The root causes of the problem are complex. Abuse and neglect are usually the result of intergenerational problems and almost always linked with poverty.

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Throwing money at the problem won't necessarily fix it and part of the solution has to involve lifting the standard of living of families to give their children a better chance.

But it is clear more money needs to be thrown, and the agencies receiving it have to get better outcomes from what they are given. If they are properly resourced it will be difficult for them to explain away failure.

When the political beauty pageant gets into full swing later this year and the two main political parties woo voters for their support, our hopeless child neglect record should be one of the biggest issue on the table.

Plenty of kids died under Labour's watch in the past decade, and no real progress was made. This Government has failed to make a difference. It is time someone did.

- The Timaru Herald

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