Rights of the Child: Fifth Periodic Report of New Zealand

“The committee is deeply concerned about the enduring high prevalence of poverty among children, and the effect of deprivation on children’s rights to an adequate standard of living and access to adequate housing, with its negative impact on health, survival and development and education” Fifth Periodic Report [UNCROC Para 35]

New Zealand’s children and young people have been the focus of international interest of late and reports suggest their verdict is mixed. Social Development Minister Anne Tolley led a delegation to Geneva to discuss New Zealand’s Fifth Periodic Report under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), and to her credit this is the first time a minister has led a government delegation. Non-government agencies were also part of the delegations and included UNICEF NZ, Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA), along with Judge Andrew Becroft, the Children’s Commissioner.

Geneva is a long way to travel but fronting up to the UNCROC committee every 5 years presents an invaluable opportunity for New Zealanders to reflect on how our children and young people are faring, and on what, as a society, we are doing well and what we can do better.

Things didn’t bode well early on in the piece with initial feedback from the UNCROC Committee indicating confusion about the current social investment approach to policy, service delivery and funding that targets our most vulnerable children (children in state care and those vulnerable to harm and abuse), and how this tightly focused approach impacts on children outside of this definition.


Amal Aldoseri, Vice-Chair UNCROC

Amal S. Aldoseri, Vice-chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN in Geneva, said. We are well aware of the mandate of the Ministry of Vulnerable Children. We are happy to see that a special attention and this huge effort is put for the protection of the vulnerable children. However, I have to reiterate what was mentioned by my colleague yesterday that the convention on the rights of the child is not about vulnerable children, it is about every child living in the state party….. This can be achieved by developing one comprehensive national strategy in light of the provisions of the Convention for all children, including vulnerable children…… Another point is, what is the definition of vulnerable children? Does it include immigrants and refugees? LGBTIs  and children living in poverty? Children without family environment…etc?

In New Zealand there is widespread support for improving the health and well-being of children and young people in state care, and a view that this focus is long overdue. The Children’s Commissioners State of Care Report 2016 supported many of the findings of the Expert Panel Final Report: Investing in New Zealand Children and their Families that underpins the establishment of the new Oranga Tamariki.

The contention raised by the UNCROC and by child advocacy groups is the narrow scope and meaning of the terms ‘social investment’ and ‘vulnerability’ and the impact of this narrow scope on children living in poverty and other equally vulnerable groups of children.

UNCROC makes clear the rights-based obligations of signatory countries must apply to all children and not targeted groups of children. This means public resources should not be siphoned off from one group of children (universals) to another (targeted) but rather additional resources need to be made available to groups of children where required (proportionate universalism).

The final UNCROC report has been released just in time for the latest Kete Kupu. The report identifies positive areas but there is also a strong focus on the need for social policies to reflect the rights of all children.

6 areas of concern are identified:

  • Violence, abuse and neglect (Para 23)
  • Children deprived of a family environment (Para 28)
  • Standard of living (Para 36)
  • Children belonging to minority or indigenous groups (Para 42)
  • Child labour (Para 44)
  • Juvenile Justice (Para 45)

While the report ‘welcomes’ the current reforms to the care and protection system [Comments under Children deprived of a family environment (Para 2, (a)-(e)] it raises some specific recommendations that need to be fully considered.

  • The need to regularly monitor the implementation of the reform and its impact on children’s outcomes, with particular attention to Maori children and children with disabilities [para 28 (a)]
  • Strength its efforts to improve the cultural capability of care and protection system and its engagement with Maori communities, the whanau(extended family), hapu (sub-tribal grouping) and iwi (tribal group).

Other UNCROC recommendations in brief:

Comprehensive policy and strategy

  • “Consider a different name for the proposed Ministry for vulnerable children, and avoid the categorization of children, in law and policy, which may lead to stigmatization [Para 7 (b), Page 2].
  • “Finalize and implement the child impact assessment: best practice guideline, and make its use obligatory, including during the allocation of public resources” [Papa 7 (c), Page 2]

Standard of living

  • “The committee is deeply concerned about the enduring high prevalence of poverty among children, and the effect of deprivation on children’s rights to an adequate standard of living and access to adequate housing, with its negative impact on health, survival and development and education”. [Para 35, Page 12]

Strategic approach

  • “Introduce a systemic approach to addressing child poverty, in particular Maori and Pacifika children, including a national definition of poverty”. [Para36, (a), Page 12]


  • “Consider holding targeted consultation with families, children and children’s civil society organizations on issues of child poverty, with a view to strengthening the strategies and measures for fulfilling children’s rights in poverty reduction strategies”. [Para 36 (d), Page 12]

Children belonging to minority or indigenous groups

  • ..:”The Committee remains seriously concerned about the structural and systemic disadvantages Maori and Pasifika children face in the State party”. [Para 41, Page 14]
  • “With reference to the Committee’s general comment N0 11(2009) on indigenous children and their rights under the Convention, the Committee urges the State party to develop a comprehensive, cross-sectorial strategy for the full enjoyment of the rights of Maori and Pasifika children, in close cooperation with them and their communities”. [Para 42, Page 14]

Administration of juvenile justice

  • ….”The Committee urges the State party to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility I accordance with the Committee’s general comment No. 10, and notably its paragraph 32 and 33”. [Para 45 (a), Page 12]
  • “Raise the age of criminal majority to 18 years”. [Para 45, (b), Page 13]

The issues raised in the report are not new to child advocate groups in New Zealand. As Judge Andrew Becroft, has said “I’m reassured that an expert international Committee has so accurately identified what is needed to improve the lives of our children. They have made a number of very appropriate and considered recommendations”.

The next UNCROC is report is due 5 May 2021. This is represents another chance to get it ‘right’ for all of our children by integrating a rights-based approach in policy processes, legislation and implementation.  The clock starts now.