Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Child poverty 'a stain on NZ's human rights record'

The report highlighted the high numbers of Maori and Pacific children affected by poverty. Photo / Thinkstock
The report highlighted the high numbers of Maori and Pacific children affected by poverty. Photo / Thinkstock

The Government has been slammed for its track record on child poverty and violence against women following a critical report from an international human rights watchdog.

The Amnesty International Annual Report on the state of the world's human rights highlighted New Zealand's high levels of child poverty, violence against women and a proposed law affecting asylum-seekers.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sarah Thompson said the report's findings came as no surprise.

"It's yet another report in a long line that highlights ongoing child poverty in New Zealand,'' she said.

"That child poverty remains high is of no surprise when our Government continues to ignore research-based solutions, choosing instead to punish the poor via welfare reforms which do nothing but intimidate, control and sanction beneficiaries.''

Child Poverty Action Group co-director Mike O'Brien said there had been no significant Government response to the issue of child poverty.

He said last week's Budget had partly addressed some of the issues, such as home insulation and rheumatic fever, but there needed to be a broad and sustained response across health, education, housing and incomes.

"There's been a lot of talk, a lot of conversations ... but the Government has made absolutely no effective policy response to any of that, so far at least.''

Women's Refuge spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin said violence against women and children was a significant issue in New Zealand that rightly needed to be highlighted.

"And the fact that international organisations are highlighting it should give the Government some pause ... It's no surprise to us, we live with it every day.''

The report noted that the UN's Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was concerned about the failure to collect adequate data, particularly in relation to violence against Maori, migrant and disabled women.

Ms Hannifin said Women's Refuge had formally asked the Government's taskforce on family violence to respond to the UN's recommendations, but it was yet to receive a response.

"We're still waiting. It is disappointing.''

Prime Minister John Key, who had not yet seen the Amnesty International report, defended the Government's record on at risk and vulnerable people.

"The Government has and continues to do quite a lot for at risk young people - everything from supporting huge amounts going into accommodation supplements, Working For Families, and other measures that we took in the Budget, including putting $100 million into insulation for very low and at risk families.

"We can always do more but we are a Government that stands by at risk people.''

Mr Key also defended the Immigration Amendment (Mass Arrivals) Bill, which would allow for indefinite detention of asylum-seekers arriving by boat in groups of more than 10 people.

Amnesty International said the bill would jeopardise New Zealand's previously good reputation for treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

Mr Key said it was important to update the legislation to ensure refugees could be processed properly and fairly.

"It's also important that we send a deterrent, because in the end we want people to come to New Zealand as genuine refugees - we support that and we take 750 people a year.

"But we don't want people coming illegally to New Zealand, or to send a message that we want to support people coming illegally.''

A spokeswoman for Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the Government had a strong record of targeting assistance to those most in need.

It did so through housing, health and social development initiatives that focus on low income and vulnerable families and children.

Women's Affairs Minister Jo Goodhew said the Government's taskforce on family violence would respond to progress on the UN's recommendations in the next couple of months.

She said the ministry had established a process where government agencies met every six months to review the progress on the recommendations.

Pacific human rights scorecard:

New Zealand

• High rates of child poverty

• High levels of violence against women

• Proposed law breaching rights of asylum seekers


• New laws breach rights of asylum seekers

• Children permitted to be held in adult prisons

• Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people over-represented in criminal justice system


• Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly restricted

• Allegations of torture and ill-treatment by police and security forces

Papua New Guinea

• Violence against women and girls widespread

• Sorcery-related killings common

• Forced eviction for development projects

By the numbers:

• 112 countries tortured citizens in 2012

• 80 countries conducted unfair trails

• 57 countries detained prisoners of conscience

• 21 countries carried out executions

• 12 million people were stateless at the beginning of 2012

• 15 million people are registered as refugees


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