270,000 NZ children in poverty

Twenty years after New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Uncroc), a Unicef New Zealand report has found 270,000 New Zealand children are still living below the poverty line.

The United Nations convention aims to ensure every child has a healthy, happy childhood, with enough food; access to medical care; spending time with family and friends; being kept safe; being listened to and treated with respect; going to school; having a warm place to live; and being part of a supportive community.

However, University of Auckland youth law specialist Robert Ludbrook has conducted a stock-take of New Zealand's progress in respecting children's rights, and found while there had been some positive developments made - such as the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act, free health visits for under 6-year-olds, and the Working for Families package providing additional income to some low income working families - 270,000 children were still living in poverty with inadequate income or housing.

The report, titled Kids Missing Out, was launched in Wellington on Thursday, and gave several recommendations to the Government to help it fulfil its Uncroc obligations.

It recommended the Government create a permanent mechanism to aid and co-ordinate Uncroc implementation; create a plan of action that identifies where New Zealand's children's rights are not being met and sets out what needs to be done, by who, when and how it will be monitored; and prioritising reform of adoption laws and raising the legal age of recognition as a child to 18.

Mr Ludbrook said there were ''inherent weaknesses'' in Government processes, such as poor data collection and exclusion from decision-making which resulted in children missing out on basic protections.

''Human rights are not just a `nice to have', they are fundamental to achieving good outcomes for children.

''Children will be healthier, do better in school, and be more engaged citizens when we ensure that their rights have been met,'' Mr Ludbrook said.

Despite New Zealand's promise to uphold the rights of children, the report found New Zealand had seen significant increases in infectious diseases in children; high rates of child maltreatment; children hurt while working; and children detained in police cells and tried in the adult justice system.

Unicef New Zealand advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers said although the United Nations committee on the Rights of the Child had made repeated recommendations, New Zealand had failed to incorporate Uncroc into its domestic law, or given priority to addressing child poverty.

In support of the Kids Missing Out report, Unicef is encouraging New Zealanders to sign its petition on www.change.org which urges the Government to implement the convention.

- john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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