A small crowd gathered outside Kaitaia's courthouse yesterday, as the two people who had admitted the manslaughter of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri were appearing before the High Court at Rotorua for sentence.
Tania Shailer and David William Haerewa were each sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment, with nine years non-parole.
Speakers in Kaitaia included rally organiser Aroha Bentson (Open the Curtains), who, as did others around the country, read a statement issued by the Sensible Sentencing Trust that described New Zealand as a beautiful country that offered much to be proud of, but which, in terms of child abuse, could only be "utterly ashamed".
"Our children are dying. In the last 25 years abuse, neglect and maltreatment has claimed more than 200 children, last year being one of the worst on record. The stories are heart-breaking, the pictures are disturbing, the figures are confronting. Sadly, they are New Zealand's shameful reality," the trust said.
"Today, we are here to stand up. To stand up and show our country we are better than this. Our children deserve better. Today we are here to stand up and say we won't be ignoring it or accepting excuses."
The principal purpose of the nationwide rally was to set in motion a process that would put an end to New Zealand's "horrific and shameful" level of child abuse, and to demand that anyone who abused a child was punished severely. That did not mean allowing plea bargains.
"The Justice for Moko we demand today will not be carried out inside a courthouse but on the grounds outside courthouses all around New Zealand," it added.
"Moko, your death has united a nation in grief and horror at what happened to you, and will be a catalyst for change. We want a country where kids are brought into and raised by families that want them and love them."
Moko had deserved and had the right to expect that, but instead had been brutally beaten and tortured over a two-month period. He was bitten, stomped on, kicked, starved, dropped face-first to the floor.
"He screamed in pain, so they covered his mouth to silence him. Even when he was so weak he could barely walk, the swelling to his face was so significant he could hardly open his eyes, his little body completely battered, his murderers continued to inflict pain and suffering," the statement continued.
"Moko died from multiple lethal injuries, any one of which could have killed him. He was three years old.
"The police rightly charged his killers with murder. His death met all the criteria for a murder conviction. But because of our current laws, the killers were able to enter into a plea bargain arrangement that allowed those murderers to plead guilty to manslaughter instead.
"We will be doing everything in our power to ensure this never happens again. We are here today to demand change.
"Prime Minister John Key has said he doesn't believe change is necessary. Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who is responsible for the plea bargain legislation, sneeringly says he will explain 'in words of one syllable' why this seemingly inexplicable decision was made. But he will only do that after the sentencing today.
"This arrogance and contempt from our so-called leaders has played a huge part in New Zealand now having one of the highest levels of child abuse in the developed world. ..
"There is nothing that will ever justify the harming of children. We say no more sugar-coating and no more disguising. Killing our children is murder."
Legislation could be changed, it added, but that alone would not stop child abuse.
"We need you to continue to stand up and say enough is enough. We need to continue to shame it. We need to be loud and clear that we will not be tolerating child abuse in our country."