12 Aug 2015

Child deaths everyone's problem

6:44 pm on 12 August 2015

A Taupo boy is the latest New Zealand child to die a violent death, in a series of incidents which have put the spotlight on the alarmingly high number of children thought to be at risk of violence.

Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri

Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri Photo: NZ Police

Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri died on Monday after being admitted to Taupo Hospital with critical injuries. A 26-year-old woman and a 43-year-old man have been charged with assault on a child and appeared in court today.

The three-year-old's death is the latest in a line of tragedies involving youngsters.

A six-month-old Kapiti girl - whose name has been suppressed - died in Wellington Hospital in June from severe head injuries, with a 31-year-old man charged with two counts of assault; while two-year-old Esme Claire Kinraid died in Hawera the same month, with her father charged with manslaughter.

In Christchurch 15-month-old boy Ihaka Stokes died after being taken to hospital with several fractured bones in July - a 22-year-old man has been charged with murder - while five-year-old Leon Michael leFleming Jayet-Cole died in May. His stepfather has pleaded not guilty to murdering Leon and his mother has been charged with failing to get her son medical treatment.

Child Matters chief executive Anthea Simcock said the number of cases involving children being killed went in cycles, and 2015 was shaping up to be a particularly tough year.

"We have had really bad years like 2011, where 14 kids died, 10 of which were under five, and similar numbers in 2009, while there were only six - which is still an awful amount - killed in 2014."

Mrs Simcock told Radio New Zealand about 9000 children were thought to be at risk in New Zealand, in almost every community in the country. She said it was important to keep the tragedies in the public eye, and to keep talking about the issue.

"We must keep talking about it, because people do tend to forget. I know it sounds a little trite, but we need to keep reminding people they can't just wash their hands of it.

"There is already a lot of awareness - society was somewhat in denial 20 years ago but a number of high-profile cases, including Nia Glassie and the Kahui twins, have raised awareness over the years."

Last week, the Government launched plans for a comprehensive overhaul of domestic violence laws in New Zealand. Justice Minister Amy Adams said she wanted to kick-start national debate about the "horrifically high" rate of domestic violence, which sees an incident reported to police every five minutes.

Mrs Simcock said it was a step in the right direction but the responsibility could not all be put on the Government's shoulders.

"It's not just a government problem - they can ease the burden but they can't be there for every child, all the time.

"We're not telling people they need to be dobbing everyone in, rather that they look at what they can do to reach out."

She said the simplest and tiniest gestures could make all the difference.

"When you see a family in an environment that could be harmful to a child, don't just turn away, see how you can help out. Offer to cook a meal, or babysit, or do anything you can do to relive the stress. Getting to know your neighbours can really make a difference."

The justice system continues to crack down hard on violence towards children - earlier today, Wairarapa man Jason Sutherland was sentenced to seven years' jail for an "extremely violent" attack on a two-year-old boy in March 2014. The boy suffered life threatening injuries, including head injuries and bleeds in his eyes, but has since recovered.

But Mrs Simcock said she doubted harsher sentences had much of an impact.

She said each new death was heartbreaking but anything the public could do that would make people more confident to get help would help curb the violence.

"We just need people to think about the children behind the statistics, and think about how those little lives were lived for those few years, because the blow that killed them wasn't the first one."

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the number of police investigations involving child deaths this year was far too high, especially given the $1.4 billion spent each year to address family violence.

"It's tragic that these little lives are being lost and everyone's got to take some responsibility.

"Someone has to take some action."

Ms Tolley said the issue was not something which could be fixed overnight, or that the Government could tackle alone.