Māori leaders urge whānau of beaten boy to speak out

3:05 pm on 21 February 2020

Māori leaders are decrying the beating of a four-year-old boy in Hastings and say keeping quiet about what happened is not tikanga Māori.

The Flaxmere community has gathered  for a karakia for a four-year-old child seriously injured in a beating at unknown hands two weeks ago.

The Flaxmere community gathers for a karakia to honour the injured boy and other children who suffer at the hands of those who should be protecting them. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

The boy remains in Starship Hospital with extensive injuries and police say they still do not know what happened to him at his home more than three weeks ago.

The boy will live with brain damage, if he survives at all.

Despite this, key family members remain silent. Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri said what happened to the boy was senseless and violent brutality, and they should talk.

"People who have harmed this child need to be held accountable," she said.

"I am not of the belief that they should be given a soft run, simply because they harmed a defenseless young boy."

She said several Māori organisations were poised to provide support, but it was hard to help when some members of the boy's whānau would not speak.

"It is fairly solid that they have been advised not to speak," she said.

"The community in Flaxmere will have an inkling, especially those from that street, but like I said I am leaving that investigation in the hands of the police."

The boy's uncles, Jerry and Cade, told RNZ that his father had gone into hiding after receiving threats.

It is understood the boy had a suspicious injury in June last year, and was taken by Oranga Tamariki but was returned to the same home where he was injured without consultation with whānau, some of whom opposed his return.

Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive for south services Alison McDonald stood by the agency's decision.

"In January, following extensive work with the family over many months, Oranga Tamariki was satisfied there were sufficient supports from wider whānau and professionals for the boy to be at home," she said.

"By then, his family had actively engaged in a range of services. Decisions like this are never made in isolation."

Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said it was a tragedy, and people needed to front up about what happened.

"It is not okay to keep silent, at some point we are going to have to try and figure out what happened," he said.

Māori suicides a national disgrace - Matthew Tukaki

Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki Photo: RNZ / YouTube

"We need to know what needs to change and what more we can do to support out families whatever the circumstances might be."

On average, a child dies every five weeks as a result of violence in New Zealand.

Tukaki said the headlines often focused on Māori cases, and it was important not to see child abuse as a Māori issue.

Leading Māori academic and family harm researcher Leonie Pihama agreed.

"What we know from the research that we have been doing is that for one, this is not a Māori problem," she said.

"The issue of family violence and sexual violence and child abuse was not an issue that was prevalent prior to colonisation."

Dr Pihama said people generally remained silent after abuse because they did not trust police.

Leonie Pihama is a research director at Waikato University.

Leonie Pihama is a research director at Waikato University. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

She said that came down to a series of negative experiences Māori had with police over generations.

"It is an outcome of the disconnection and impact of not being heard by agencies and the punitive way issues are dealt with."

However, remaining silent about child abuse was not tikanga Māori, she said.

"Whanaungatanga is accountability and our obligation and responsibility for all of us to care for our children."

Dr Pihama said some families had lost the notion that tamariki were tapu and taonga, and the answer lay in strengthening and rebuilding Māori knowledge within whānau.

"Some government here has to get brave enough to actually trust that their agencies can't do it and it is time for us to have the opportunity to do it."

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