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.
Another step too far.
It'll be interesting to see where the Maori Party fall on this one. Given Turia's drive to make more families responsible for their own to reduce family violence, will she support National on this one? It could play either way. More state involvement always leads to less personal responsibility. On the other hand the new punishment might be described as enforcing greater responsibility. No. I hope, along with the Greens (ACT are hopeless in this area) the Maori Party will denounce this.
It is clear that getting CYF involved in family problems is not necessarily the cure-all. It isn't difficult to conjure scenarios where a family member might be loathe to go to them or the police preferring to deal with a situation themselves. What about a mother who sees one of her children abused by a violent partner but the others left alone? She can plan to leave. In the interim she suspects that bringing the police into the picture will exacerbate matters. Ramp up the violence. Involve the other children. She makes a choice to try and resolve her situation herself and with help from other close friends she trusts and tells about the violence. They are also now culpable.
They weren't "doing nothing" but they failed to report the abuse. Will the two parts of the equation be separated?
I see other problems as well. The threshold for abuse and neglect is legally very low. A grandparent who has always smacked to discipline, and still does, should be reported by the parent lest he or she risks a jail term? Yes, my objection sounds vaguely silly but it's valid.
And what about people involved with families as volunteers or mentors? Someone working with a violent family who's task it is to change that behaviour? What if they fail and the police become involved. Retrospectively, is that person - who has become a "close friend" - now culpable?
And was the abuse actually seen, or is 'suspected' enough to make an associate take a walk? Imagine the finger-pointing when one person is going down.
We all know what kind of people Power is trying to net here. But his solution is going to be fraught.
One last question. If it's such a good idea why has it taken until now to think of?