The horrific death of a Taupo toddler at the hands of his carers has prompted questions around parents leaving children in someone else's care.
Outspoken children's rights advocate Merepeka Raukawa-Tait has described the death of 3-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri as "another tragic but avoidable children's death".
"Sadly, if nothing changes, there is another little child waiting their turn in the wings."
Moko was abused over a two-month period in Taupo after his mother left him with a couple while she was in Auckland looking after another child in Starship Hospital.
Tania Shailer, 26, and David William Haerewa, 43, pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges on Monday in the High Court at Rotorua on what was supposed to be the first day of their murder trial. The pair tortured the child by kicking him, stomping on him and slapping him. They rubbed his own faeces in his face. He was eventually beaten to the point where he suffered facial swelling, internal bleeding, septic shock from his leaking bowel and swelling of the brain.
He was left for four days before the couple rang 111, saying he had fallen off a wood pile.
Mrs Raukawa-Tait, a Rotorua district councillor and a former Women's Refuge chief executive officer, questioned why parents continued to leave their children in someone else's care.
"We know sometimes it's unavoidable but you can tell the people who have little understanding of the needs of children, lacking in empathy. And don't think relations are best placed to care for children. Often they are not. Children are precious. Not to be shunted off to anyone who might be available."
She said questions also needed to be asked about Moko's killers.
"The abusers of this little boy would not have been born bad. What happened in their lives to turn them into monsters?"
Meanwhile, the Sensible Sentencing Trust has criticised the Crown's decision to not pursue murder charges. "This was Nia Glassie and the Kahui twins all rolled into one," said trust founder Garth McVicar.
Waiariki MP and Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said constituents were concerned about the case.
"If the public is to have faith in the justice system, decisions like this need to be explained."
His Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said: "The outcome of this case has made many of our constituents feel the justice system doesn't care about our mokopuna. This needs to change. Too many of our children are vulnerable and we need to know that we have a system in place to protect them."
Rotorua Crown solicitor Amanda Gordon told the Rotorua Daily Post yesterday that she would not be commenting on the case.