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NZ: Silence on abuse may mean 10 years' jail

Publish Date: 13 Apr 2011
Source: NZ Herald
By: Claire Trevett


Extended family and close friends of child abusers could face up to 10 years in prison if they turn a blind eye to abuse and do not report it.

Justice Minister Simon Power yesterday introduced changes aimed at protecting children from abuse and neglect, including a new offence making people who are close to a family liable if they do not report abuse to the authorities.

Mr Power said the changes would stop people from dodging responsibility for abuse under their noses.

"It will no longer be an excuse to say you were not involved in the abuse. Standing by and doing nothing makes you involved, and this bill makes it clear."

The changes were partly driven by cases such as the deaths of 3-month-old twins Chris and Cru Kahui from severe head injuries in 2006, after which police struggled to get information from family members.

Under the changes, adults who do not live in the household but are closely connected to it must take steps to protect any child at risk of death, abuse or sexual assault.

Other adults in the same household would also be required to report abuse or face jail, and parents and caregivers have a new duty to intervene to protect children from injury, including abuse by others in their family. [Highlights added.]

The maximum penalty for cruelty to a child, such as neglect or ill-treatment, will increase from five to 10 years in prison.

The new law will also apply to carers of adults who need care because of illness, disability or age.

The Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said extending liability to people outside a child's own household went too far.

She supported requiring parents and caregivers to protect children in their care.

But she was concerned about extending that duty to other family members, some of whom might be subjected to abuse themselves, and others who did not live in the household but were closely connected to it.

She said it would be better to support such families to prevent abuse - "not to threaten people with criminal liability".

Mr Power also introduced a limit to the "claim of right" defence which was used by the Waihopai Three in their acquittal for damage caused to the Waihopai Spy base in 2008.

Under the change, the defence can be used only in cases where the person believed they had a personal right in the property concerned.

The Waihopai Three - Adrian Leason, Peter Murnane and Sam Land - used the defence to argue they believed they were acting for the greater good because disrupting satellite transmissions could save lives in Iraq.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said his party would be opposing the amendment.

"It is quite dangerous to abandon such a long-held way of defending yourself and to restrict it just to property you think you have some ownership rights over."

The law changes also increase the penalty for possession of an offensive weapon, including knives, from two to three years in prison.


Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2)

* New offence of failure to protect child from death or abuse. Applies to adults in child's house or those "closely connected". Max 10 years' jail.

* Doubles maximum penalty for child cruelty to 10 years.

* Extends legal duties of parents/caregivers to take 'reasonable steps' to protect child from injury. Maximum 10 years.

- Additional reporting NZPA

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