Every child who is killed by someone who is supposed to care for them in this country hits me as a physical blow. A little piece of my heart and my hope for NZ’s future dies with them.
The brutal death of little Ihaka Stokes has hit me harder than usual. The likeness between Ihaka and my son Dante at the same age and the way he is described by loved ones is incredible, and there are similarities in my and his mother’s age and situation when Dante was a toddler. Ihaka is even Dante’s middle name in another language.
It would be inappropriate and would take away from my message to speculate on the circumstances of his death, and I won’t indulge in it. The truth will come out eventually, and I would hate to have wasted my time and energy – and yours – on assumptions.
But what we do know is heartbreaking enough – a precious little boy has been killed. Yet another one of our children. A little boy with beautiful long, blonde curls, a wee button nose and toothy grin, just like my son. A little boy full of energy, only beginning his journey of life, like my son was. Cheeky, loving and stubborn, just like my son.
I look (up) at my now almost 13 year old boy/man – 5ft7, size 10 feet, accomplished parkourist, big brother to his siblings, little brother to his step-sisters, and see how much those who love Ihaka will miss out on. The lows, the highs, the unconditional love – the precious relationship we, Dante’s loved ones, have treasured and always will, for the rest of his life. He is well-regarded, kind-hearted, helpful and loving – the best son anyone could ever ask for.
Ihaka could have grown into a wonderful young man, just like my son, if his life had not been so tragically cut short at the hands of someone who should never have been allowed near him. And Ihaka is only one of 3 precious little NZ children lost or maimed JUST THIS WEEK.
This has to stop. Our kids deserve safety and love. Every single one of them. No excuses.
Our government has an ongoing role in our shameful record of child abuse, and I could rant for hours and pages about how they have continually failed to implement policy that actually keeps our children safe – for decades. But I’m not going to do that here.
Instead, I directly plead with every single one of you to do one thing to save OUR kids.
I know that when we witness someone acting unacceptably towards children, and that person is a friend, neighbour or relative; that intervening or contacting the authorities is hard. We think about our safety, our relationships with them, how uncomfortable future family events or gatherings of friends are going to be.
We think about how maybe they have changed or will change, maybe their new partner has ‘mellowed them down’, that someone else will intervene, surely; that the neighbours are ‘ferals’ anyway so who cares, that they are ‘only violent when they drink’, that they were ‘just stressed out’ etc.
Please – do not blinker yourselves. Please don’t console yourselves with excuses and decide to keep quiet.
Talk to your family and friends. If they won’t listen to you, talk with others they might listen to. Get to know your neighbours. Don’t be afraid to ask struggling parents if they are ok. Offer practical help, or resources to ring. Babysit. Be honest with your family and friends if you know someone around their children may be a risk. If you hear someone whose behaviour concerns you is babysitting children, say something. Keep your eyes wide open and trust your gut.
Don’t hesitate. Ring the police. Ring CYF. Dial 111.
Because there is no worse feeling in existence than finding out that child has been maimed or killed, or is now grown up but carries permanent scars inside and out – and knowing you could have made a difference, but chose the ‘safe’, ‘easy’ route and did nothing.
That is the least our helpless, voiceless children deserve from us – their family, friends, community, and country.