Monday, August 6, 2007

Child Abuse - A National Tragedy

Q. What do Nia Glassie, Jhia Tua, the Kahui twins, Pirimai Simmonds, Jonelle Tarawa, James Whakaruru, Mereana Edmonds, Lilly-bing Karaitiana Matiaha, Tamati Pokaia and Delcelia Witika all have in common?

A. They’re all Maori kids, and they’re all dead.

Two weeks ago no one had ever heard of Nia Marie Glassie - and the chances are, given her socio-economic background, no one ever would have either.

She achieved fame through victimhood - yet another young New Zealander who has been smashed to a bloody pulp by those that are supposed to protect her.

I always thought Kiwi kids were Weetbix kids, not beaten kids.

Of course, this is not the entire issue - nothing is ever this simple.

Glassie is - or at least, she was - Maori. Which suddenly propels this even further into the media spotlight and into the dining room conversations nation wide.

I’d like to think that there would have been this much attention to the case had she and her abusers been from a white middle class family rather than a Maori dependent-class whanau, but I’m not quite sure.

The discussion around this seem to fall into two camps - either it is a major problem for Maori, or at least a sub-group of Maori, and an indication of the failures of Maori leadership; or it is all to do with the Cultural Separation Anxiety endured by Maori since 1840 and therefore “whitey’s” fault.

I don’t think you’re going to beat your kid to death just because you’re Maori. If this were true, there wouldn’t be any Maori kids left. But I also think that this is a problem more particular to Maori than any other group in society. And that CAN be proven. According to the analysis by a former CYFS employee, Mike Doolan, deaths caused by child abuse has fallen steadily over the past 20 years, down from 0.92 deaths per 100,000 children in 1987 to 0.60 in 2006. At the same time, though, deaths of Maori children from child abuse have increased from around 1 per 100,000 20 years ago to 1.34 in 2006. The silver lining to this cloud is that the rate was up to 2.40 killings per 100,000 kids in the mid 1990s - the highest rate in the Western World. So I guess some progress is being made.

It is interesting to draw a link with some other statistics here - such as the fact that the number of Maori in paid work dropped by 15% between 1986 and 1991, at a time when the total national employment dropped by only 6%; or the fact that 26% of the Maori workforce was unemployed in 1991, compared to the national average of 9%. This coincides with the increase in Maori child abuse in the early 1990s. Today, Maori unemployment stands at 8.6%, compared to 3.7% for non-Maori. The Maori child homicide rate is double that for non-Maori: 50% of the babies under one-year-old taken into state care are Maori. Maori comprise 40% of the 2000 critical and 25,000 general child abuse cases reported annually. So is there a direct link between unemployment and child abuse? According to the UN report on child abuse world wide, released in August 2006, (, and based on WHO analysis, children in lower income countries are twice as likely to die from child abuse than in the wealthier ones - the comparative rates are 2.58 per 100,000 vs 1.21 per 100,000.

Let’s look at a comparative study. Zimbabwe has an unemployment rate of around 80% thanks to Robert “Liberal poster-child of the 1980s” Mugabe’s fantastic ‘majority rule’ debacle. According to an article on the HIV learning centre web pages ( one child in Zimbabwe is abused every hour. There were 8,600 cases of child abuse in Zimbabwe in 2005 - of which more than half involved sexual abuse. Given the prevalence of AIDS in the area, and the ongoing myth that sex with a virgin cures AIDS, this can be understood somewhat. The lack of any official census in Zimbabwe since 1991 makes it impossible to know how many kids there are in the country now. However, an estimate from the EarthTrends Environmental Information Portal ( suggests that it is somewhere around 6 million kids. So, if we say 4000 cases of non-sexual child abuse, out of six million kids, we come up with a rate of 2.4 per 100,000 - the highest rate endured by Maori in the mid 1990s. So according to my admittedly amateurish research, there may well be a link between unemployment and child abuse.

However, this neglects the fact that Lisa Kuka, Nia’s mother, was NOT unemployed. She is a kiwifruit picker. This is more a seasonal employment than a long term career but nonetheless she was actually contributing to society when her baby was tortured and killed.

I’ve not found any employment details on the thugs behind the beating, but this case does highlight several other concerns.

What I find most interesting is that Ms Kuka is in her mid thirties, and one of the five who are being charged over this case, Wiremu Curtis, her partner of two years, is a 17 year old. Why has this not attracted more attention? I find it difficult to imagine a 30 man shacking up with a 15 year old girl and getting away with it, yet if we change the gender that is basically what has happened here.

Of course, most media discussion has centred around the Maori issue. Peter Dunne is quoted as saying "It's time to stop pretending that the kind of child abuse suffered by Nia Glassie and the Kahui twins is not a Maori problem. Until Maori leadership accepts that they are the key to finding a solution for child abuse by Maori, we will continue treading water waiting for the next child to die."

Labour MP Shane Jones (a list MP, it must be stated) said the Maori families who abused their children were only a small minority "who are gripped by a poverty of spirit and an impoverished morality", and called for "rapid and ruthless intervention" to remove children from such families. Is the ‘Howard Solution’ one which NZ can tolerate? I for one can’t see the bleedin heart liberals in mainstream NZ allowing poor Maori kids to be taken from their whanau and placed with well educated non-Maori middle class families - although I do recall a great Bro’Town episode on this a couple of years ago!

Pro-Maori groups are blaming a lack of culture for allowing this to happen. Anglican priest Bert McLean, a kaumatua for the Navy, blames this statistic on the generation of young Maori parents born in the 1970s, 80s and 90s who had lost contact with their culture and identity. Apparently there were 102,000 Maori who stated in the last Census that they did not know their hapu, iwi, language or culture - 18% of all Maori. "This is the subculture that are now having children," Mr McLean said. "They do not know their culture and language and tikanga and everything else, and have created a culture of their own.”

Bentham Ohia, CEO of Te Wananga O Aotearoa, believes that learning Te Reo can help Maori, as many who learn the language find they have a greater interest in their own learning and their children's learning. This, supposedly, would prevent the abuse - although I’d love to see the figures which prove that Maori who speak Maori do not beat their kids.

Pita ‘It gets more Maori votes than Peter’ Sharples, co-leader of the Maori Party, also hits out at the accusations levelled against Maori as a whole and Maori leadership in general. "How do I feel when I hear they're Maori? I feel ashamed. I feel guilty," he said in the Sunday Star Times last week. He stated that problems of child abuse stemmed from a dysfunctional culture which happened among poverty-stricken and underachieving communities, a group in which Maori were too highly represented. "It's ridiculous to blame this problem on ethnicity,” he added, “and it's equally ridiculous to think Maori aren't doing things about it. To say that it is related to genes or a culture, an ethnic group, is absolutely wrong. I don't say that Pakeha have a gene for big business fraud or anything like that... I'm not making excuses.”

Rawiri Taonui, a professor of Maori studies at Canterbury University, goes further than Sharples. He says, in an opinion piece in today’s Sunday Star Times, that it is simplistic to blame Maori. “Do we condemn all white men because they have the highest incidence of child pornography and paedophilia? Vilify all Christians because of sexual and physical abuse by Catholic nuns and priests?”

What I find REALLY interesting about Taonui is his next statement.

“The abusive `Once Were Warriors Syndrome' we have today did not exist in pre-European times; it is part of a colonial legacy that afflicts impoverished and alienated indigenous minorities the world over.” According to him, therefore, no Maori ever beat their kids to death before 1840- and because they couldn’t read and write, there will never be any proof to contradict this argument unless we invent time machines.

Taonui blames a whole raft of colonial-related issues including: “theft of land reduced Maori to poverty; suppression of te reo produced cultural alienation;” urbanisation exacerbated the effects of both. “Rejected by the dominant culture and distanced from their ancestral culture, concentrated in poor housing, working for low wages or on welfare, and subject to across the board racism, a generation of young urban Maori parents born in the 1970s, 80s and 90s entered an intergenerational cycle of poverty, alcohol, drugs, hopelessness and frustration…It is not the original indigenous culture that causes the cyclic child bashing, but the absence or distortion of culture. The highest rate of cyclic poverty, alcohol, drug and child abuse in Western Europe is in the Glaswegian south-east of Scotland - the descendants of white Highlanders who lost their lands, language and culture.” This of course neglects the majority of the population who are descended from Lowland Scots and Scots of Irish, Italian, and Asian descent, as well as the large number of refugees who have been settled there by the UK government over the past few decades, but it is an interesting point.

Still, according to Taonui, “Maori culture is not the problem, it's the solution.”

I don’t think Maori culture is to blame either. I know a bit about it - growing up in Rotorua is a culture-intensive course in tikanga all by itself. Certainly there is nothing in what I learnt about Maoridom which suggests that spinning kids around on clothes lines, practising wrestling moves on them, making them run around the house naked, leaving them outside in freezing temperatures, or putting them in a clothes dryer are seen to be normal. This is malicious, aggressive, violent, psychopathic behaviour by people who have no sense of empathy or compassion.

Personally, I think the problem is young, poorly educated, unemployed, alcohol- or drug-abusing, welfare-dependent thugs. Many of them happen to be Maori, and there have been countless initiatives to attempt to remedy this. And I see far too many of these ‘graduating’ our schools every year to believe that this will change any time soon.

Which brings me to my final point on what has been a very long post. In today’s Sunday Star Times, Lisa Kuka said she was "angry and hurting" and wanted "the mongrels" who tortured her little girl to pay for her death. She went on to say "I'm angry there's nothing being done about the mongrels that did this. Them being locked up means nothing to me. I'm just so upset because nothing has been done to them yet."

She added that it felt like she was paying for their crime.

It looks like she is trying to absolve herself of any guilt in this. But she is just as responsible. She may not have fired the trigger, but she provided both the gun and the bullets. What was she thinking, leaving her children in the care of a 17 year old son of a Black Power member, and his mates? If she’d been a responsible parent she would have left her child in the care of her own mother, who could provide a proper environment for the toddler. Instead, she left her in the house with a bunch of teenagers preparing for another 21st birthday party. What an idiot.

I’ve written a lot about this, so I’ll stop shortly. You see, for me, this a slightly more personal issue. The abuse happened on Frank St in Rotorua - the street on which my Mum grew up. She and her ten brothers and sisters all lived in that house as kids, and many of the older grandkids also spent many happy hours playing in the house and the vast section on which it was built. My grandfather’s house was one of the first to be built on Frank St - as far as I know, it is still there, although there is now a small unit in the front yard and a larger house in the back of the section as well. It is a place which holds many happy memories for me. Today I read that Kuka and Curtis met at a 21st birthday party held at Lisa's sister Louise's flat, well-known for its frequent parties, in nearby Old Quarry Rd - the road I grew up on; my parents’ first house was at number 58, on the other side of the fence from Western Heights High, and just down the road from Selwyn Primary, where I went to school. It shocks me to realise that these places where I had such a fine childhood are now tainted forever by this act of evil. The word ‘desecration’ is foremost in my mind.

Your neighbourhood will be next. Unless we cut through the rhetoric and the blame and just take action.

Confiscation of children, and compulsory sterilisation, of those who cannot look after them. Don’t keep the children in the whanau - that doesn’t work. Farm them out to well educated, well off NZers - who cares what ethnicity they are? Teach the kids proper values and give them a proper home filled with love and caring. That will break the cycle. Ethnic solutions be damned.

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