Excuses excuses

ONCE again a child has committed a very adult crime - the aggravated robbery of a Kaitaia dairy, armed with a thankfully unloaded rifle - and once again we hear the excuses. No one has yet said within the writer's hearing that the 12-year-old made a mistake, but sooner or later someone will. Predictably, however, the immediate response from some quarters was that the boy was/is a victim of boredom, and a broader level of deprivation.

Absolute bollocks. This boy's community was not responsible for this incident. It was not responsible for the circumstances that culminated in a 12-year-old drinking alcohol, possibly using methamphetamine, then picking up a rifle and heading for the dairy along the road.

This insistence that it takes a village to raise a child is rubbish. It takes an adult, ideally a parent, preferably two. This boy was not let down by his community, by the police, by CYF, by the education system, by the health system or any of the plethora of agencies, government and non-government alike, that are charged with or voluntarily accept the task of helping kids survive, let alone make the most of childhood. He was failed by the woman who brought him into the world and by the man who sired him, or, in the event that they departed from his life long ago, the adult/s who had responsibility for raising him.

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There is no cause for anyone else in Kaitaia to accept any level of guilt for failing to provide the care, protection and stimulation that might have set him on another path. This habit of shifting the blame is one reason, perhaps the main reason, why he found himself in a position to commit such an offence in the first place, and why others will inevitably follow in his footsteps.

It's been said that this boy is the result of an "economic phenomenon" that is by no means unique to Kaitaia, the Far North or even New Zealand. It's been said that children who commit these offences are a symptom of a lack of basic needs such as healthcare, education and housing. And if that isn't enough, some children have nothing to do but wander the streets.

What an outrageous cop-out.

There is no reason whatsoever why any child in Kaitaia, however straitened the circumstances of their family, should miss out on healthcare, basic or otherwise. Kaitaia is very well served in terms of health services, probably better served than most small towns in the this country. And unlike many communities in New Zealand it isn't expensive. This boy is entitled by law to free doctors' visits, and lives in a community where a raft of primary health (and secondary) services are available, at little if any cost, for all who wish to avail themselves of them.

If he is educationally deprived, that too can be sheeted home to the adults who should be taking care of him. Kaitaia, again unlike many small communities, offers a range of schooling options.

Someone does have to go to the trouble of getting children to school, and that will be the problem for some, but it is ridiculous to suggest that any child in Kaitaia is deprived of educational opportunities by anyone other than the adults who 'care' for them.

Some in the Far North have genuine housing issues, but the writer understands that this boy was living in a perfectly adequate rented home just a few minutes' walk from a park, a school, a GP clinic and the main street shops. And the North Road Dairy. There might still be much to learn about this boy, but it's unlikely that inadequate housing played a role in his offending.

What we do know is that this child had access to alcohol, possibly to methamphetamine, and a firearm. We know that before and immediately after the robbery he was at home with a number of other children aged 13 and 14 years. His alleged co-offender, at 15, was the oldest of the bunch. No adults were present immediately before or after the robbery.

Where the police will go with their investigation isn't known, but they should be looking for the adults who had responsibility for these children. That's where the blame belongs, not with the town's schools, health services or housing issues. And certainly not with the community in general for failing to give this boy options for spending his time other than robbing dairies. Perhaps we now have a generation who can't amuse themselves unless they have access to the technology that has seemingly replaced traditional child's play, but again, that comes down to individual adults, not the community as a whole. However it is measured, the failing of this boy belongs to two individuals.

That is not to say that the community as a whole should not be concerned. On one level this incident was simply another example of a woefully maladjusted child showing the lack of judgement that is common amongst children of his age, even when they aren't drunk or stoned. It should be of concern, however, that his behaviour could have had fatal results.

The people who own dairies in Kaitaia are becoming used to being robbed. How long before they start arming themselves? How long before a robber is confronted by an intended victim armed with a shotgun rather than a broom and indignation? How long before the police shoot someone in the course of an incident like this?

The rifle this boy was carrying wasn't loaded, and no ammunition was found at his home. The police did not know that before the two boys were taken into custody.

Had they arrived in North Road while the robbery was in progress, they might well have come to the conclusion that they were dealing with a dangerous armed offender. In those circumstances it is not at all difficult to imagine the boy with the rifle paying with his life.

We are indeed witnessing deprivation on a grand scale, but not the kind described by the apologists. Some children are clearly victims of family break-down, but that can't be blamed on the good people of their community.

The causes of family break-down are undoubtedly led by the DPB, supported by a raft of other government polices of the last 30-odd years, but behind every dysfunctional family is not a doctor, a teacher, a civil servant or a village, but adults who have fundamentally failed the children they above all others have responsibility for.

The justice system won't do much for this boy, but he should not be its main target. Don't expect too much though from a system that is seemingly blind to the sins, by omission or commission, of the adults who produce these young offenders.

One more thing. Police are now saying only that there is a "supposition" that this young robber might have been affected by methamphetamine.

Whether he was or not is largely irrelevant unless someone can be held accountable for allowing him access to it, but some years ago, when politicians finally realised just how much damage methamphetamine does, they introduced life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for manufacturing and/or dealing it.

It is time for the courts to start making use of that sentence. No one can be in any doubt regarding the harm it does, and those who deliberately set out to profit from it should be removed from society permanently.