Child-poverty plea finds forum

By Lindy Laird

A Whangarei teenager's drive to focus policy-makers' and citizens' attention on child poverty will see her take the stand as a keynote speaker at a national public health conference.

Whangarei Girls' High School student Jazmine Heka, 16, will address the Public Health Association's 2012 conference in Wellington next month, where the theme will be "Equity from the start - valuing our children".

Jazmine was spurred to act to end child poverty after seeing Bryan Bruce's Inside Child Poverty documentary in the build-up to last year's general election. The documentary highlighted how childhood poverty and its associated diseases not only compromised individuals' and whole communities' health and future, it put a huge social and health financial burden on all New Zealanders.

"That's what really made me passionate, I want to help children," Jazmine said.

She also realised she was one of the children of the documentary.

"I related to that documentary. I grew up in a cold, damp, state house and I was always sick as a child, but we didn't realise why.

Our houses should be safe for children."

Struck by the documentary that aired with the message "a nation with poor children is a poor excuse for a nation" and the reality that one in five Kiwi youngsters live below the poverty line, Jazmine researched children's rights and drafted a charter for her Children Against Poverty campaign.

Jazmine took it on herself to meet the documentary maker, Northland representatives of Child Poverty Action Group and other health campaigners. She organised three related petitions with demands that included free health care for children, free and healthy school lunches, Working for Families tax credits for beneficiary-reliant families, and a "warrant of fitness" law inspired by Scottish welfare standards to ensure all New Zealand homes, including rentals, were safe living environments.

The other youth speaker at the PHA conference in early September will be Veronica Ng Lam from Save the Children Fund Youth Adviser. They will join a powerful line-up that includes Samoan Minister of Health Dr Tuitama Leao Talalelei Tuitama, New Zealand Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier, Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, Canada's First Nations Child and Family Care Society executive director Cindy Blackstock and former Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro, now head of Massey University's School of Public Health.

- Northern Advocate

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