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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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New Zealand: Youth spell out right to be recognised

Angela Gregory

Children and young people have a voice and say they want to be listened to. And many think we adults, particularly parents, need to buck up. What's more, it appears we owe them the right to take heed.

A special report into the rights of the children and young people of New Zealand was made public yesterday in draft form – it will not be completed until young people have their say on it.

The Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Commissioner for Children are putting together the children's rights section for the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights. The preliminary Stocktake Report found that clear themes emerged and immediate action was needed in several areas. It said a programme was needed to promote young people's right to participate with government and non-government sectors. It quoted the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that their views be taken into account in judicial and administrative processes. And it said children and young people in New Zealand were not only entitled to the same basic human rights that adults enjoy, but have extra rights to recognise their special need for protection.

In 1983 the Government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which applies to people under the age of 18 and has to make efforts to deliver a comprehensive set of rights. But the Stocktake Report said rights on paper without action were of little assistance to ordinary people. Research for the report was contracted to the Children's Issues Centre at the University of Otago.

Focus groups were held around the country targeting those youngsters who were generally less likely to be heard and most likely to need help. They were of Maori, Pacific Island, Indian and Asian descent, those with disabilities, those in rural areas and those in care and the youth justice system. As well, the researchers conducted an online survey sent to 500 schools.

Young people identified the need to address poverty so their basic needs could be met, prevent abuse or bullying and racism, and provide parent education, better wages, more things to do and more places to hang out. They also wanted more people to listen to them and provide help.

The report said three out of 10 young people lived in poverty so were disadvantaged in terms of their growth and development. This particularly affected Maori, Pacific Island and Asian children. The focus groups showed some young people wanted more money for their families to meet expenses like rent, food bills, activities and holidays. There was evidence that some families had significant difficulty paying school, exam and activity fees.

The young people said youth wages were too low, especially for those who needed to earn to supplement the family income or pay for their own clothes and education. The youths wanted better housing, a quiet space to study at home and healthier food.

Many said some parents needed to go to parent school, and the negative impact of parents' fighting arose often. It was important that people at home listened to them, loved and cared about them and spent time with them, the report said.

Bullying was a problem for many young people, and the report noted a need to evaluate existing programmes to see which worked best. The youths pleaded for more affordable things to do and places to go.

Voice of youth

Some of the Maori youths said:

“I should not have to live in a trailer park with all these drunks.”

“You should be allowed to say what you want without getting a punch.”

“I don't want people to expect me to speak Maori but I want to know things about my marae and learn things about the olden days.”

Some Pacific Islanders said:

“Acknowledge we are in a new country and culture and that it's not wrong for us to adapt to it.”

“There should be less obligation to give all our money back to the church and to keep sending money back to the islands.”

An Asian youth said:

“Judge us by the inside, not appearance.”

Disabled youths said:

“We should be able to choose our own clothes, music and friends.”

“Don't treat us like handicaps.”

Rural youths said:

“Our family shouldn't get taxed so we can have more money for better houses, school, university and us children.”

“The schools should stay open. They are a part of the area and let our future generation get the chance to attend.”

Young people in the youth justice system said:

“If there were good jobs for youth there wouldn't be youth stealing.”

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