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Dr Muriel Newman

The Unspeakable Question

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4 August 2007

The Unspeakable Question

Another Maori baby has died at the hands of family members. Yesterday, three year old Nia Glassie, the little girl who was tortured by family members, lost her battle with life.

Meanwhile the 12-week-old Rotorua baby, who was rushed to Starship Hospital last weekend with suspicious head injuries, remains in hospital. The little boy’s grandfather is reported to be a senior member of the Black Power gang.

The unspeakable question on everyone’s mind is whether child abuse is a Maori problem. Given that Maori children are six times more likely to be abused than non-Maori, and that child abusers are eight times more likely to Maori than non-Maori, the facts tell us that child abuse in New Zealand is predominantly a Maori problem.

The Prime Minister and her politically correct government refuse to accept those facts. They like to blame everyone else – including neighbours – except, it seems, the abusers, having put in place a sentencing regime that sees child abusers treated more leniently that those who abuse animals.

To deflect criticism away from their failure to reduce child abuse, the government this week hastily launched a controversial new programme to question all sick women in hospital about their personal relationships and sex life – Have you ever felt controlled or always criticised? Has anybody hurt or threatened you? Have you been asked to do anything sexual that you didn’t want to do?

Quite who will collect this information, who will see it, or what it will used for, has not been spelled out. Nor do we know whether this questioning represents the blatant breach of privacy laws that it certainly appears to do on the surface.

Under this $11 million feminist strategy, sick women will be asked questions that are designed to set the machinery of the state against men even though the research around domestic violence and child abuse is unequivocal: women are perpetrators as well as men.

This week’s NZCPR guest commentator, Bev Adair, runs a communications and networking business and is passionate about her role of advocating for children and young people. Bev is a Maori woman who was brutally abused as a child. She is angry that Maori leaders have not done more to stop the abuse of Maori children, and she has bravely agreed to share her story:

“From my earliest years I lived with violence. I remember knives, blood on walls, being beaten, being locked up in cupboards, being molested by my Dad, being used by my mother’s men friends – she put me on show for them. When I was nine, my Dad was jailed for molestation. I was taken to the Papakura police station in a car, put in a room, and given away to foster parents. I had little contact with my mother after that. I visited my father in jail and never saw him again. Abuse by foster dads followed. I lived in seventeen different foster homes and attended seventeen schools”. (To read Bev’s article click here )

Bev believes that not enough has been done to address the root causes of child abuse and that leadership by Maori – and by the government – is sadly lacking. If it was up to Bev, she would cut benefits to get parents and children out of the welfare trap freeing them up to get on with making something of their lives instead of being beholden to their political and tribal masters.

Last year, in response to the death of the Kahui twins, Alan Duff wrote a guest article for the NZCPR outlining why Maori abuse their children. He believes that a lack of education is a central problem: “You don’t see Maoris with university degrees beating up anyone”.

He states: “There is a disturbing anger common to far too many Maori that needs to be deeply investigated, like some permanently infected wound. Maoris dominate in gang numbers and prison inmate numbers. We have the highest number of assaults and almost exclusively own the child murder statistics. This attitude, this barbaric outlook on life will continue for the next thousand, ten thousand years if we don’t analyse it properly, if we don’t hold ourselves, our very societal model up to scrutiny”.

He describes Maori culture as being based on a “Stone Age” societal model which does not work in a modern world: “To continue with the collective, whanau, hapu, iwi societal model is a fatal mistake. A fatal mistake. For in not developing individuality we continue down the declining slope of anonymity in a collective. Of no-one willing to make decisions – especially unpopular decisions – for fear of standing out from the crowd, going against the collective will”.

And that is the core problem. Maori leadership have heralded tribalism as a cultural renaissance, when in fact it has been used to maintain the myth of cultural oppression and to foster separatism. In this day and age tribalism is little more than a celebration of class privilege and vehicle to unlock the riches available through the Waitangi Treaty settlement process. As a result of persisting with this outdated societal model, social dysfunction has been allowed to flourish in many Maori communities.

Again, as Alan Duff says: “The quality of debate in this country on Maori issues is poor, cowardly, non-analytical, and none of it serves the Maori people well. Like social welfare, which many of us have warned about for years, every government benefit takes another breath of the recipient’s self-respect away. Until they choke on self-hatred and maim and kill themselves and others”. (To read Alan’s article click here )

Wise Maori know that the welfare is destroying their people. They know that the Domestic Purposes Benefit in particular, has been hugely damaging to Maoridom. I have been on marae after marae where the notion of abolishing the DPB and replacing it with a system that encourages work, independence and personal responsibility, finds overwhelming support.

They know that where Maori families were once strong, the DPB has made them dangerously weak and fragmented. They know that where Maori men were once committed fathers, husbands and providers, the DPB has caused them to be rejected and cast adrift. They know that their boys, instead having a father to look up to, to teach them to respect women, and to demonstrate a parent’s unconditional love, all too often turn to gangs in their search for a father figure.

According to government records, back in 1926 when the statistics on marriage were first collected, the marriage rate for Maori was 69 percent and for non-Maori, 62 percent. Over the next 50 years marriage rates increased until by 1971, the marriage rate for Maori was 73 percent and for non-Maori, 77 percent.

But the introduction of the Domestic Purposes Benefit in the mid seventies changed all that, especially for Maori. By 1981 the marriage rate for Maori had slipped to 62 percent, by 1991 it had fallen to 50 percent, and by 2001 to 46 percent. In comparison, by 2001 the non-Maori marriage rate had gradually declined to 70 percent.

It is this collapse of marriage and dramatic rise in the DPB that is at the heart of the Maori child abuse crisis. Maori women are now heavily over-represented on the DPB, making up 41 percent of all women on that benefit. But the trend for teenage parents is even more worrying. Maori teenagers make up 55 percent of all teenage parents on the DPB, and unless this trend is turned around, the Maori child abuse crisis is set to worsen.

There are solutions. Other countries have faced similar problems and have replaced sole parent benefits with support systems based on getting parents back into the workforce. As a result, the incidence of child abuse has fallen, unemployment has reduced, school drop out rates have improved and marriage has become more popular. In fact, there is no downside except the predictable political one.

Maori leaders who are genuine about wanting to turn around the child abuse crisis should band together and call for the replacement of the DPB. They should not accept anything less.

Governments like Labour depend on the support of people on welfare. The more people who are dependent on the state the better they like it. That is why their welfare reforms are only ever half hearted.

Maori leaders will have a fight on their hands to get the DPB replaced. But if they succeed, they will be responsible for saving the next generation of children from a fate that under our current system simply doesn’t bear thinking about.

The poll this week asks: Do you think all women entering a New Zealand public hospital should be questioned about whether they have been subjected to abuse? Go to Poll

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