Many Catholics are passionate about New Zealand’s abyssmal abortion rate and rightly so. This country has one of the highest rates in the world and children who have yet to be born are the most vulnerable.
Yet while this country’s abortion rate is high, research shows that children who are already born have just as hard a time surviving. Last year the minister for social development Paula Bennett referred to New Zealand’s ‘ugly secret’ saying that many children are abused and neglected by the very people who should love and protect them.
‘Surely, the answer ultimately lies in a change in our country’s culture; a change which leads to zero-tolerance for child abuse and neglect. Otherwise, we will continue to lead the world in beating, neglecting and abusing our children,’ she said on releasing the government’s Green Paper for Vulnerable Children on July 27. Longitudinal research suggests that without significant support and intervention, 15 percent of under 18s will not thrive, belong or achieve. www.childrensactionplan.govt.nz/
The minister claims that poor parenting, compounded by drug and alcohol and mental health issues, is responsible for the vulnerability of under fives. But a Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) paper, Left Further Behind: how policies fail the poo rest children in New Zealand released on September 12 lays the onus firmly at the government’s feet.
Co-editor Dr Claire Dale says one in five children is living in poverty because of factors beyond their control.
‘For example, families may be forced to move often, which impacts on children’s learning; they may live in cold and overcrowded housing; and be forced to balance competing basic needs such as paying the electricity bill or eating nutritious food. Stressful environments impact children’s immune systems and can lead to chronic illnesses.
‘Ultimately, poverty makes many families easy prey for loan sharks as they struggle to provide basics for their children, thereby setting up a vicious downward cycle.’
CPAG is calling on the government to design policy that more effectively addresses the issue of child poverty.
‘It is past time for action. Only when the needs of children are put at the centre will we see the policy changes that are needed. The country has the means, we now just need the political will,’ says co-editor Associate Professor Mike O’Brien.
With the Church’s call to Respect Life this month Catholics would do well to consider some actions to create a society that gives all children the chance to reach their potential to be fully human, fully alive.
• Recognise that abortion is a symptom of a society that tolerates the lack of well-being of a fifth of all children
• Learn about instances of inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand
• Campaign for child-centred government policy for a more equal society and against policies which exclude children and families
• Read church teaching on economic, political and social-cultural inequalities
• Use your vote wisely
• Pray for a society that honours the most vulnerable, born and unborn.