Northland too accepting of harm - pastor

By Imran Ali of the Northern Advocate -

A Northland reverend says he is frightened by the level of child abuse acceptance in Northland.

Pastor Martin Dickson from Kaurihohore Historic Church and Saint Paul's Centre in Kamo joined about 50 community leaders, parents, youth groups and whanau in central Whangarei yesterday for a hikoi to protest against child abuse in the region.

Another hikoi marched through the streets of Kaitaia yesterday calling for an end to child abuse and to show the town should not be judged by events unfolding in court, where convicted paedophile James Parker reappeared yesterday.

Simultaneous rallies were planned in Auckland and Hastings.

There were 1511 substantiated cases of child abuse reported to Child, Youth and Family in Northland last year - more than four a day on average.

"I don't think we should tolerate violence and then complain about its consequences," Mr Dickson said before joining the crowd with a placard reading: "4 Children A DAY."

Asked whether Northland's poverty contributed to the level of child abuse, he said: "No, there's lots of poor people who don't beat their children."

Solo parent Rik Retimana came along with his son, Kahukura, and said although individual families needed to take responsibility for their actions, some government policies were perpetuating poverty that contributed to child abuse.

"[Government] claim to have a strategy but in fact they are persecuting those that are currently out of work," he said.

NorthTec student Bailey Chapman said the appalling child abuse statistics in Northland were the result of financial constraints, with parents taking out their frustration on children.

"I was a youth worker and am studying to become a midwife so I am very passionate about kids and their health," she said.

Meanwhile, the Kaitaia protest drew more than 200 marchers, including a class from Te Rangi Aniwaniwa.

It was organised by Anahera Herbert-Graves, of Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngati Kahu. She told the crowd they had to rise above their hurt and use it to mobilise themselves against child abuse. "Yes, we are hurting, but what is the use of hurting if we don't do something?"

Ms Herbert-Graves said the hikoi had already spawned a nationwide movement. Changes had to come from ordinary people up to government level, including the mandatory reporting of abuse.

"It's not enough to fight for our beach, for our whenua, for our reo, if our tamariki aren't being heard," she said.

Ms Herbert-Graves hoped the hikoi would show the rest of New Zealand that what was happening in the nearby Kaitaia Courthouse was "not what Kaitaia is about".

Among those taking part in the hikoi was former Oturu School principal Fiona Lovatt-Davis, whose early warnings about Parker's behaviour were ignored and even derided. On a visit home from a Nigerian city riven by religious conflict, she travelled to Kaitaia especially to join the hikoi. Her new home's troubles made Kaitaia's problems look "entirely fixable".

While returning for the hikoi had been difficult, her unease was nothing compared to that of the brave children who had laid the complaint against Parker. The hikoi was Kaitaia taking the lead on confronting a difficult national issue.

"It's the tail of the fish mobilising the country. We need to hear the voices of our children and grant them the innocence of childhood," she said.

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