Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

UN Children's Rights Committee: Ministry of Vulnerable Children 'a bit strange'

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announces overhaul of Child, Youth and Family in April. PHOTO/ Mark Mitchell
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announces overhaul of Child, Youth and Family in April. PHOTO/ Mark Mitchell

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has defended her Ministry for Vulnerable Children after a UN children's' rights committee described it as "a bit strange".
Tolley has just returned from a two-day grilling at the United Nations in Geneva by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which vets each country every five years.

UN Special Rapporteur Kirstin Sandberg asked about the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children which will take over from Child Youth and Family and focus on children at risk such as those in state care.

"What about the new ministry which is only for vulnerable children, which is a bit strange, I must say, in the ears of the committee?"

Sandberg said while work on children in care was commendable, "we would like to see a comprehensive policy for all rights, for all children, which is something different from only the vulnerable".

In response Tolley said the potential bad outcomes for children such as those taken into care required that focus.

"We have more than a million children in New Zealand and this ministry is unashamedly focused on those that are most at risk."

Jacinda Ardern, Labour's spokeswoman for children, said it showed the Ministry for Vulnerable Children was "a pretty expensive re-brand exercise" for Child, Youth and Family.

"If they're not going to get the budget to lift the well-being of kids generally then it's just going to be CYFs with another name."

She said it was an opportunity for a Ministry of Children which would lift the well-being of all children.

"Ministry for Vulnerable Children indicates that work will be unlikely to happen and a lot of children who would benefit from taking a different approach simply won't benefit."

Tolley later told the Herald she believed the UN committee's concerns were based on a misunderstanding about its purpose as a ministry delivering to children who faced "abysmal life outcomes" without intervention.

"I think they thought it was encompassing much more than it actually was and it covered a broader range of children in New Zealand."

It had not given her cause to rethink the ministry or its name.

Tolley said it was a small portion of the session which went for 7.5 hours over two days and ranged from breast feeding to concerns New Zealand children were allowed to drive a tractor at the age of 12 and work part-time.

Tolley said she had explained New Zealand's labour and compulsory schooling laws, saying New Zealand was a farming society and jobs such as a paper run were common.

Ardern said she had driven a tractor herself at a young age and believed that and jobs such a paper runs were part of New Zealand life that need not change.

However, she said Tolley had come up short on questions such as homelessness and poverty by refusing to set a target for child poverty.

Tolley said the New Zealand delegation included Children's' Commissioner Andrew Becroft, and officials from agencies such as the Police and Department of Internal Affairs to discuss work under way with other jurisdictions in areas such as child exploitation.

- NZ Herald

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