Political parties and community groups have tentatively welcomed the government’s proposed child abuse laws but concerns about slapping restraining orders on suspected abusers are preventing unequivocal support from many.
The proposed laws, announced on Tuesday, include new responsibilities on government agencies, standard screening of the government children’s workforce and powers that will allow courts to define the guardianship rights of birth parents.
The legislation will also mean Child Harm Prevention Orders will be imposed on any person who has been convicted of, or suspected on the “balance of probabilities,” to have abused a child.
Those orders, which last for up to 10 years, can restrict a person from living, working or associating with children, going to parks and schools and changing their name.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the wide-ranging laws are necessary to protect the country’s most vulnerable children from abuse that “just has to stop”.
“More than 50 children have died in the last five years because of extreme abuse – we know many of their names,” she said when announcing the proposed legislation.
There’s a very famous scene in Yes Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey asks Bernard questions on a controversial policy and gets him to change his support for the policy based on the nature of the questions. You could play a similar game with Bennett’s policy. ‘Do you think we need to protect vulnerable children from their abusers? Yes!’ ‘Do you think faceless bureaucrats should have the power to break up families purely on the basis of suspicion? No!’
Like the story says, the harm prevention orders are imposed on the ‘balance of probabilities’ and are predicted to effect about 80 people a year, which implies that about 41 actual child abusers will be prevented from any contact with children for a ten year period, and about 39 people who aren’t child abusers will suffer the same fate. That seems like a really terrible outcome, especially since the actual child abusers aren’t likely to respect the restriction orders, because they’re, y’know, child abusers.
We shouldn’t get too worried though – it’s a Paula Bennett policy. As usual the details are vague and she’ll probably spend a few days talking about this on TV – ‘We HAVE to do something for the children!’ – and then we’ll hear no more about it until she re-announces the same policy in twelve to eighteen months time. (‘We HAVE to do something!’)