Claire Trevett

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

Child abuse bill passes into law

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Photo / Chris Loufte
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Photo / Chris Loufte

A law change aimed at improving the protection of children at risk of abuse or neglect, including stronger vetting of adults who work with children, has passed into law with broad support in Parliament.

The Vulnerable Children Bill passed its final stage by 105 - 10 votes in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon after only the Green Party and Mana Party's Hone Harawira voted against it.

The bill is the centrepiece of the Government's 'Children's Action Plan' - developed after Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's White Paper on Vulnerable Children.

Its measures include changes to the law so that abusive or neglectful parents will have to prove they are safe if they wish to keep any further children they have. In the past, social agencies have had to to prove they were not fit parents to take a child from them.

It also introduces greater screening of those who work with children for government and community agencies, and ban those with serious convictions from working closely with children.

Ms Bennett said while no law could stop children being abused, neglected or killed, the changes would ensure there were more checks on vulnerable children, greater vigilance of abusive parents, and support would be prioritised.

The bill will also put legal responsibilities on the heads of five Government departments to ensure children identified as vulnerable get the support their require. Those departments are Health, Education, Social Development, Justice and Police.

Ms Bennett said that was a critical change.

"Every child in this country deserves good health, education and welfare. Most parents provide that, but for those who can't or won't. government agencies must step in and be advocates for those children. I expect those children to now go to the front of the queue."

Labour's social development spokeswoman Sue Moroney said the bill was a good start, but did little to address the main problem of abuse in the home. She said it was a wasted opportunity.

"This bill deals with a proportion of this ugly problem that we have in New Zealand. Sadly, the vast majority of cases will be untouched by this bill. We've still got an awful lot of work to do."

Green Party MP Jan Logie said Ms Bennett had failed to deal to the main problem of child poverty.

"The Green Party wants to ensure all children have their needs met, and address the causes of vulnerability. Violence is not so easily amenable to government intervention but we can reduce it. This bill is not going to do that."

- NZ Herald

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