Families now the biggest threat to child safety - not poverty - experts say

Child poverty is not killing our kids, say teachers in some of New Zealand's most deprived neighbourhoods.

They say the problem is chillingly closer to home.

Children were dying from abuse, not starvation, said Andrea Deeth.


The West Auckland teacher has set up a charitable trust with about 20 people, mostly teachers and parents, who wanted to prevent child abuse.

They said this week's Government White Paper on Vulnerable Children did not go far enough to save kids from abuse. The real problem was neither the Government nor the economy, they said. It was families.

Deeth has been teaching part time since retiring in 1992.

"The Government is putting millions into sexual abuse but it is not reaching the man in the street," Deeth said.

"It is only the man in the street, the home and community that can prevent sexual abuse. That means all of us. If the man in the street gets angry about it then it will stop."

Deeth had worked in schools in South and West Auckland during a long career and believed a lack of money was not the issue for her children.

"I have never seen a child hungry. They usually find something to eat or drink, even if it is not the right type of food. Children in Otara and other areas seem to have a wide network and can usually go to an aunty or nana or cousin for food if they have no food in their house.

"Children do not die of starvation in New Zealand but they do die from physical and sexual abuse."

This week, Auckland juries heard evidence of four young girls allegedly raped at home by men their parents trusted.

Rama Paerau, 39, from Henderson, admitted assaulting and indecently assaulting a girl under 12. The girl gave evidence she was attacked while her mother slept in the next room or was out. Paerau was drunk and mistook the girl for his partner.

Fred Takamore, 61, is accused of inducing an indecent act, three charges of indecent assault on a girl under 12, rape and six charges of sexual violation. He was a friend of the parents of his three alleged victims. He denies the charges, and his High Court trial continues tomorrow.

David Walker was charged this week with sexual violation and an indecent act on a girl aged 6 to 11 years old. He will reappear in the Waitakere District Court in two weeks.

The Government has set aside $20 million, initially for a database of at-risk children and teams of health and social professionals to work with vulnerable children in each region.

Deeth said a little girl had arrived at a West Auckland school with blood running down her legs. "She told me her older brother had raped her. I told her mother and she said 'It's nothing'. I told the principal and she told me not to interfere. It broke my heart."

Most abusers were family members or close to the family.

"In Otara in the early 2000s, I found a group of children hiding under the classroom. It was a prefab and I went back at night and found them there. They told me they couldn't go home because they were being abused. They told me to leave them alone because they were safe there, they had food and wrapped themselves up with newspaper. It was incredible."

Bruce Tasker, another former teacher involved with the group, said he knew sexually abused children and knew the effect it could have.

"It is not just poor families. It can happen to families who love their children but give them freedom to join clubs and after-school activities where they can be preyed on. It can happen to good parents but it can also happen to bad parents. We need to send out the message it's not okay and has to stop."

In the year to the end of June, Child, Youth and Family found 1396 cases of sexual abuse. Statistics show about 25 per cent of girls and 10 per cent of boys have experienced sexual abuse.

To help, contact Deeth on ad41@xtra.co.nz.