Friday, 10 August 2007


NZ rallies against child abuse
By New Zealand correspondent Peter Lewis

Posted Thu Aug 9, 2007 11:36am AEST

People protest outside the Rotorua District Court, after the death of Nia Glassie, a victim of child abuse. (Getty Images: Phil Walter)

Audio: NZ stages silent vigil for child abuse victims (PM) Anti-violence campaigners in New Zealand say they are encouraged by the support they received yesterday for their nationwide silent vigil against child abuse.

Many people in cities and towns across the country heeded their call to pause for a few minutes at lunchtime as a mark of respect to those killed and injured by domestic violence.

If New Zealand did not completely come to a standstill, as organisers might have hoped, it at least slowed down and acknowledged the messages of solidarity carried by those who did.

There was particular empathy on the streets of Rotorua, the home town of three-year-old Nia Glassie, who died after sustaining horrific head and abdominal injuries inflicted on her over weeks, possibly months.

Vigil observers in the town offered their thoughts on why they marked a minute's silence.

"It's just to try and once again encourage people to speak their hearts, you know, don't be scared," one said. "That's why Nia's where she is now, so we're just sending out a message to encourage people to speak up."

'Pleading ignorance'

A small group gathered at the Auckland Children's Hospital, where the critically injured toddler lost her fight for life last Friday.

The group included Oscar-nominated actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, who said it was time all New Zealanders - Maori and Pakeha - claimed ownership and responsibility for what is going wrong in too many families.

"I'm here to support," Castle-Hughes said. "I think it's a very important issue, that for a long time we've all kind of pleaded ignorance.

"Now I have a child of my own, it makes my heart bleed when you see stories and I think that if I can do this one little bit to support, then at least it's something."

Castle-Hughes says the national vigil will increase awareness of the an issue that is easy to ignore.

"I think it's going to be good, it's important for people to stand up and kind of just show that now that we know what's going on, [we will] face the issue head on."

'Wrong message'

But other Maori believe it is time to speak up, not fall silent on the issue of child abuse.

Te Kanikani Tautoko is from a group representing social workers and other health and welfare professionals, Allies of Whanau.

"Silence is never a solution for domestic violence," he said. "We think that it's the wrong message to be sending out."

"We think that a much more appropriate way of addressing the issue is to actually encourage people to talk, to discuss it amongst themselves, to play music - all these sorts of things that involve communication.

"It's only through exchange and dialogue that these sorts of issues can be brought out into the world of light and understanding, so that it can be known and dealt with in an effective manner."

'Taking ownership'

One of the organisers of today's event, Bob McCoskrie of Family First New Zealand, says for too long it has been easier to leave it up to others.

"I guess a lot of people say, 'Does it really make any difference?'," he said.

"I think New Zealanders, we do that a lot, we say, 'Well does it really make a difference?'

"And I guess what we are trying to say is, 'Yes, you can make a difference'. Everyone of us can make a difference if we start to own the problem, rather than sit back and say, 'It's not my race, it's not in my area, it's not my problem, it's not my responsibility'.

"I guess we're saying, 'Well that may be true, but we need to take ownership of the problem'. I want to take ownership of the problem cause I don't want it to happen to any child, whether they live in my area, whether they're my race, whatever."

That is a view shared on the streets of Rotorua.

"We can't eliminate the problem, but we can do little things just to try and minimise it," one resident said.

"I reckon just taking a stance like this, encouraging people to take the stand, maybe people might have the heart to do what is right."

Whether they agree or disagree with the silent vigil, child-abuse activists want New Zealanders to do the same thing - listen.

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