The small, battered body of Leon Jayet-Cole was brought to Christchurch Hospital. He never left. His injuries suggest he met a violent end. He was 5 years old.

Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri was 3 years old when he died. Ihaka Stokes was just 15 months. Three children killed in the past four weeks. By the Herald's count we are approaching 10 such deaths this year. We are maintaining a shameful trend.

New Zealand has the fifth highest rate of child abuse in the OECD. Most of this occurs in the home. Our children are being killed in the place they should feel loved and safe.

In large part, homicide statistics tell an obvious story. Victim numbers rise strongly in the adventurous late teens and early 20s and tend to tail off with age. But incredibly there is no time a New Zealander is more at risk than when they are a kid.


Children are more likely to be murdered within three years of being born than at any other time during their life. Even more surprising, given the acute gender focus of domestic violence campaigns, women are equally as likely to kill as men and most often the culprit is the child's biological mother.

A Family Violence Death Review Committee reported that of the 37 child homicides resulting from abuse and neglect between 2009 and 2012, at least 41 per cent were killed by their mother. In very young children this figure increases. The other perpetrators - stepfathers, fathers, and female caregivers - lagged well behind.

Given that babies and toddlers are entirely dependent on adults for their survival; that they deprive people of sleep and create significant hardships; and that mothers are the most likely to live with their children, then perhaps these data aren't as surprising as they first appear.

Certainly unsurprising are the risk factors researchers have found associated with violence against children: poor housing, financial hardship, inter-generational parental violence, poor mental health, and a lack of extended family support. In other words, the usual suspects.

Identifying the problems is pretty easy, however, it's what we're going to do about them that's the issue.

A recent Cabinet report on family and sexual violence found that of $1.4 billion spent on family and sexual violence less than 10 per cent was spent on interventions, of which just 1.5 per cent was spent on primary prevention.

Our money, and therefore our focus, is on matters after the fact. We react to victims and offenders rather than actively seeking to prevent crimes from happening. This is particularly important when it comes to young kids who have no voice, and no ability to get help.

Different cases affect different people. For me it is the Coral Burrows murder of 2003 that is particularly haunting. Her stepfather beat her for not getting out of the car to go to school. It was raining and cold. He beat her so badly that her broken jaw protruded from the left side of her face. The coroner concluded that the blood running from her mouth would have been torrential. She was not dead when he went to bury her so he hit her with a tree branch until she was.


Details like these horrify us and make us angry. We demand action. But equally we should be dispassionate and rational in demanding measures that seek to prevent these things occurring. Reaction should not gazump prevention. At present, the system is geared too heavily toward the former and too lightly on the latter.

Until we change this, each of us is part of an ongoing tragedy and a damning national disgrace.

Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions. He is an award-winning writer who specialises in research with practical applications.