Reports of murder send something of a chill through us all and the younger and more vulnerable the victim the more intense the reaction. And so the appalling murder of the 3-month-old baby twins in Mangere brought shock and anger from across the community followed by frustration and fury at the family’s lack of co-operation in finding the killer.
Thank heaven for the anger. It’s a sign that we care. These twins felt like they were ours. Everyone in the country knows their names and we feel violated in this callous killing of innocents.
But from here on the reaction will tell us more about ourselves than we might care to know because we must face the difficult question – Why did these murders occur?
There is no sign the Kahui family are able to confront this question and deep down we all know the answer won’t come from a police interview. There will be some shallow, pathetic explanation given for the vicious attack that killed the babies but it won’t provide the answer.
Helen Clark has called for a multi-party approach to the issue of violence against children and yet probably few of us believe this will make any significant difference.
In all likelihood the eventual outcome from this committee will be some more funding for community groups to help identify and assist “at risk” families and more money for social work training programmes etc
This will “settle down” community concern until the next appalling outbreak of violence when the country will once more erupt in shock and cabinet ministers will again rush to the scene to be seen to be at the heart of community concern.
The answer to the question won’t come from politicians and yet it is as plain as a wart on one’s nose. Violence against children is directly linked – in every society around the world, without exception – to poverty and income disparity. Heaven knows we have produced this in spades over the past 2 decades with the result that we have now rocketed close to the top of child abuse statistics.
Relative poverty increases pressures on families and we should not be surprised at increases in all aspects of domestic violence. Worse though for the families of Mangere and other low-income communities in New Zealand is the fact that they have suffered in quiet desperation at seeing their incomes and their standards of living decline over a generation. Incomes in these communities have dropped as tens of thousands of stable, relatively well paid, skilled and semi-skilled jobs have been lost from the economy to be replaced by low-paid, part time, rostered jobs.
Not only have these families not been able to “get ahead” in the tradition of kiwi families but they have been forced backwards. Middle-class New Zealanders, even if they want to, can only guess at the degradation, shame and alienation this develops in families – especially on the part of breadwinners who, even if they work a 40 hour week, won’t bring in anywhere near enough income to provide for their family. And so these families, bringing up “our” babies, are struggling against an overwhelming tide. In extreme cases some of them are now so deeply isolated from mainstream society that their values have become badly skewed and their behaviours inwardly destructive.
Maori families have suffered through this more than any other group because they are disproportionately represented in our low-income communities and because so many urban-based Maori have become alienated from their culture as well as from the economy. At the same time child murder remains much lower in Pacific Island families despite many having incomes as low as Maori families. The big difference however is that the cultural base of Pacific people remains strong and this brings self-respect and the ability to “stand tall” in the community. Pacific Island families know they have a homeland where their language and culture are strong and safe so it’s easier to walk tall here. Not so many of our Maori families in low-income communities.
There can never be any excuses for child abuse. But while pointing the finger at the perpetrators of this violence is well justified, there is a time to face some home truths about the reasons why it occurred. Here are just a few.
The slide into a relative, alienating poverty has been as a direct, deliberate, well predicted result of economic policies inflicted by powerful elites and their parliamentary allies.
The full employment we supposedly have is a myth. Yes there are plenty of jobs but they are part-time jobs on poverty wages.
There is clearly what may be described as moral weakness in some families but there is a far greater moral weakness in the hearts of those who so callously perverted our economy in favour of the wealthy when they absolutely knew the outcome would be disastrous for vast swathes of our community.
If there is one greatest crime we have perpetrated against the children of this country it is that we no longer guarantee that a hard-working breadwinner can work a 40 hour week and bring home enough income to provide a decent standard of living for the family.
This is a crime on a monumental scale. If we expect our families to look after our children then their parents and grandparents must have the chance to build dignity, self respect and pride.