CRIME

Parliament passes bill to protect children from abuse

Thursday 15 September 2011, 9:55PM
By Simon Power
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Parliament today passed a bill that further protects vulnerable children from abuse and neglect.

The Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) creates an offence of failing to take reasonable steps to protect a child or vulnerable adult from the risk of death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual assault. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.

Justice Minister Simon Power said he was delighted that a broad section of the Parliament supported the bill.

"Parliament has reaffirmed today that it regards ill treatment of children and vulnerable adults as completely unacceptable.

“New Zealand has a shameful history of child abuse, and this bill will make an example of adults who put their interests before those of vulnerable children around them."

Under the bill, a person over 18 can be found liable if they have frequent contact with the victim:

• They are a member of the same household as the victim.
• Though they do not live in the same household, they are so closely connected with it that they are regarded as a member of it.
• They are a staff member of a hospital or institution where the victim resides.

They must also be aware the victim is at risk of death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual assault as a consequence of an unlawful act or grossly negligent omission by a third party and fail to take reasonable steps to protect that victim from injury.

The bill also extends the scope of the legal duty to those that parents and caregivers currently have to children and vulnerable adults to provide the necessaries to also take reasonable steps to protect them from injury

The bill also amends the offence of ill-treatment or neglect of a child by extending the offence to include vulnerable adults – those in care because of their age, detention, sickness, or mental impairment. Those who have responsibility for children and who ill-treat or neglect a child can no longer use ignorance or thoughtlessness as a defence. They will be held accountable according to more objective standards of conduct that are to be expected of parents and caregivers.

The penalty for ill-treating or neglecting a child is doubled from five years to 10 years' imprisonment.

"This bill will strengthen the ability of agencies to hold individuals to account for harming the most vulnerable in our community," Mr Power said.

"It ensures that not only will the perpetrators of these acts be held accountable, but also will those members of households who witness those incidents and turn a blind eye to the abuse, or fail take to take measures to stop ongoing incidents.

"But it's my hope that the biggest impact will be to help encourage those in day-to-day contact with endangered children to come forward if they know that serious abuse or neglect is taking place."

The bill also makes other amendments to the Crimes Act, including:

• Increasing the maximum penalty for possession of an offensive weapon from two to three years' imprisonment.
• Amending the definition of the ‘claim of right’ defence so the defence is available only in circumstances where the defendant believes they have a personal right to the property concerned.
• Allowing people to be prosecuted if they are caught during a covert police operation which targets sexual grooming.

More information on the bill can be found here.