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Govt Plans To Strengthen Law To Protect Children Welcomed

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Angus
John Angus

Wellington, Dec 19 NZPA - The Government's plan to introduce a bill to strengthen the Crimes Act to deal with violent offending against children have been welcomed by the Children's Commissioner.

Dr John Angus said he thought the planned changes would offer stronger protection "to our most vulnerable citizens".

Justice Minister Simon Power announced the planned changes yesterday after a Law Commission report suggesting a raft of new laws to protect children at risk of assault in their homes was tabled in Parliament.

The report included a law that would hold adults living in a household with a child they knew to be at risk of death, serious injury or sexual assault legally liable if they did not take reasonable steps to protect them.

Mr Power said that late last year he asked the commission to give priority to its review of Part 8 of the Crimes Act -- which dealt with offences against the person, including assaults, injuring and homicide -- and to give particular consideration to whether offences of violence against children needed to be strengthened.

"The new offence of failing to protect a child or vulnerable adult will hold accountable household members who fail to notify authorities of a child or vulnerable adult suffering abuse," Mr Power said.

"Legislation will ensure it will no longer be an excuse to say you were not involved in abusing a child -- the fact that you lived in the household and knew of abuse makes you involved."

The bill will be introduced early next year.

Dr Angus said that he thought the fact that intervention would be required by law was a strong statement to families and their wider support networks of neighbours and communities "that we all have a part to play in keeping children safe, secure and well nurtured."

"This legislation intends to make it clear that saying you were not involved can no longer be an excuse, because if you lived in the household and knew of the abuse, you were involved."

"There have been a number of cases of abuse resulting in death of children in New Zealand where a wall of silence has prevented police from being able to hold someone accountable. Yet there were adults in the houses where this abuse occurred."

Lobby group Family First spokesman Bob McCoskrie said his group agreed with the Law Commission's conclusion that the existing laws did not sufficiently protect children, and that there was no legal duty for adults to intervene to protect a child in their home.

But the right to silence afforded to family members who may have witnessed child abuse should also be removed, he said.

"The police acknowledge that the closing of ranks by the families and the 'right to silence' and refusal to be interviewed has stonewalled a number of investigations into child abuse deaths."

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