Ripped Away From Their Parents


IT IS DIFFICULT to know where to begin with Melanie Reid’s and Newsroom’s latest investigation into Oranga Tamariki. In the same way that David Lynch’s movie “Blue Velvet” begins with a single shocking discovery, which leads the hero deeper and deeper into a corrupt and violent world; Reid’s 45-minute video, “New Zealand’s Own ‘Taken Generation’”, exposes the viewer to aspects of life in this country that, until this week, have been quite deliberately, and ruthlessly, kept hidden from the public. That this collaborative act of concealment (involving, as it does, not only the child welfare services, but also the Family Court, the DHBs and the Police) has been so successful for so long is due, almost entirely, to the fact that its victims are members of the Maori underclass.

Reid estimates that the “uplift” of Maori children from their biological parents by child welfare social workers – often assisted by the Police – is occurring at least three times a week. The removal of these children, who range in age from just a few days to 14 years, is authorised by Family Court orders which, astonishingly, permit the use of “reasonable force” to separate parents from their children. That this regularly involves burly police officers carrying distraught and screaming children from their family home is a fact which Oranga Tamariki is very keen to keep from the public.

“Oranga Tamariki”: the name itself is proof of our deeply cynical state’s capacity for misrepresentation. In English, the words “child welfare” carry overtones that are far from positive. By giving this oft-criticised and disgraced government department a Maori name, the bureaucrat’s responsible clearly hoped to bury those negative connotations while, at the same time, conveying a “Maori friendly” message to impoverished Maori communities which had every reason to expect the opposite.

The cynicism doesn’t stop there, however. At the sharp end of Oranga Tamariki’s enforcement operations; especially, it would seem, child uplifts; it has become a case of Maori versus Maori. Acutely aware of how bad it would look to have middle-class Pakeha social workers ripping babies from the arms of their Maori birth mothers, the department has recruited Maori social workers to do the job for them.

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Played out in Reid’s story is the bleak spectacle of Maori women in the employ of Oranga Tamariki confronting the angry and (in most circumstances) powerless whanau of the child about to be uplifted from its terrified mother. Throughout Reid’s harrowing video, the viewer is acutely aware that, if the recorded interactions had not been unfolding in the presence of an award-winning Pakeha journalist and a courageous pair of Maori midwives – linked by cell-phone to a seasoned lawyer – then the 19 year-old mum at the centre of the drama would have lost her second child to the same British couple who, with Oranga Tamariki’s help, had been entrusted with her first.

None of this awfulness would be possible, of course, without the active assistance and institutional protection afforded to Oranga Tamariki by the nation’s DHBs. These latter, through their security and communications staff, are, in almost every case, able to ensure that the tragedies unfolding within their walls are never reported beyond them. The clear priority of the DHBs is to ensure that the media “protocols” protecting the blissful ignorance of “Middle New Zealand” are strictly enforced. The sheer ruthlessness with which they go about facilitating these uplift operations is one of the most frightening of Reid’s revelations.

The men and women I feel most sorry for (apart, obviously, from the mother and child and their whanau) are the police officers brought in to enforce the Family Court’s uplift orders. I do not imagine that many of them signed-up to rip babies from their mother’s arms. Nor can it be easy to tell anguished whanau members that they will be arrested if they do not accept Oranga Tamariki’s faits accomplis. Moreover, these uplifts are, potentially, extremely dangerous situations. The police officers involved have every right to fear assault, or worse, when emotions are running so high. That they are being deliberately inserted into such highly-charged confrontations, at least three times a week across the country, is unconscionable.

This is the enormous virtue of Reid’s and Newsroom’s investigative journalism. It digs below the superficial stereotypes that allow so many of us to dismiss the anguish of “these people” as the inevitable outcome of their irresponsible lifestyles. That they are brown and say “yous”, instead of “you”, only makes it easier for middle-class Pakeha to ignore their pain. Oranga Tamariki, the Family Court, the DHBs and the Police have made it possible for those Kiwis who have made their peace with race-based social injustice to go about their lives without the slightest awareness of the tragedies unfolding, every night, in suburbs they will never visit.

Reid and Newsroom are, of course, already feeling the lash of official displeasure. Oranga Tamariki are attempting to force edits in Reid’s video. The Hawkes Bay DHB has chastised one of its board members for daring to speak out against the incident recorded by Reid and her camera-operator. The Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, is unapologetic: the uplifts, she says, will continue. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is conflicted. Reid’s footage depicts a world a long, long way from the “politics of kindness”.

But, you know, Jacinda, this is what poverty looks like. This is what it does. This is what it requires. Our ignorance may have been blissful, but now we know, and that knowledge demands action – from all of us.


  1. Y’know this is classic fake it till you make it neoliberal styles all the way. It is the worst way of negotiating depicted between .the mother and the would be saviour of a supposed orange child. Those case workers, all four of the social workers on the story who’s one job it seems, is to create state grown babies and get payed quite hamsomly judging by the girth of there waistbands and styled hair does. Literally eating for too only not two people just, faking it.

    Literally the worst type of rort that can be legislated. As of 4 social workers are required to steal babies. If a baby was truly in destress only one workers is required. If uplifts was truly required no one would have to bullshit to a judge or police. If it was truly necessary to uplift a baby any one in there right mind would a prove immediately but for some reason, in this case we can see clearly the bullshit informs of us on the television, Y’know.

  2. Thanks for the reference Chris. Harrowing . Obviously i’m not the lawyer on site by the same name.
    D J S

  3. Where the hell are the Maori Women’s Welfare League regarding this matter?

    Someone needs to sort out those Oranga Tamariki Heavies – and sort them out fast.

    Jacinda Ardern – show these young Maori parents the same compassion you showed to the Islamic People of Christchurch.

    How could the Hawkes Bay Hospital allow this young mother and her whanau to be subjected to such a horrific lack of care.

    To all our Maori MP’s – What the hell are you doing about this travesty?

  4. Our own I Daniel Blake story.

    No kindness here.
    No well-being here.

    Time for the Labour Party to stop tinkering, to abandon their fatal adoption of free market capitalism and to represent the workers and the poor.

    Shame on this country.

    • @ ED. Well, yes. But perhaps it’s not so much shame on this country per se but shame on a certain psychological element within the humans at its helm?
      This is a piece by George Manbiot of The Guardian.

      It’s very interesting in my opinion and equally very well written. In it, he writes about the harm that can arise from a toxic work environment but also, and not exclusively, within a family environment. Put simply: If WINZ is toxic? Then their toxicity will permeate into the homes and work places of their ‘clients’. ( I loath that term; client. ) If one’s Boss treats you like dirt? You will go home unhappy and your boss, by remote control, will pollute your home and hearth.
      Once our laziness lead to our not bothering to maintain our democracy that complacency was spotted by criminals and politicians who quickly capitalised on that for their criminal activities. Criminal activities that we now know of as ‘neoliberalism’. And now? After more than thirty years of their toxic influence on our society? Their handiwork can be see in virtually every element of our beautiful AO/NZ. And of course, once one political narcissistic sociopath gets a foothold in our parliament? They surround themselves with the like minded. Then , like the disease that it is, it spreads like a virus.
      Taking children from their mothers without offering support, counselling, access to drug addiction programmes, family violence counselling and relief from the disease that is poverty is a brutal, callous and cruel opportunity for those who design such dis-eases within our society to look down their noses at their victims with self congratulatory glee.
      Angry yet?
      Voting MUST be made compulsory in AO/NZ.
      The only peaceful way to compete with those terminally insane who are our politicians and their best friends, the super riche, is to mob together like sheep surrounded by wolves. And isn’t that a bit ironic? The humble sheep has better survival instincts than we do.

  5. I think these practices are just coming to light but i can tell you i have just recently had dealing with CYFS and they are fucken useless and i dealt to them by telephone cause they are not doing their jobs properly.
    And to make matter worse some of the most nasty people are Maori and are our own they are very judgemental and all about doing things by the book and very driven. Sometimes despite some homes being a bit unsavoury the tamariki are still better of with their own rather than strangers.

    • Michelle: “And to make matter worse some of the most nasty people are Maori and are our own they are very judgemental and all about doing things by the book and very driven.”

      The issue is child safety, not whether they’re Maori children. I’d expect OT social workers (Maori or not) to do their job of protecting children, regardless of those children’s ethnicity. The risk factors are well-known: poor families are more likely to exhibit those risk factors. And – unfortunately – the very poor in this country are more likely to be Maori. It’s the way things are.

      “Sometimes despite some homes being a bit unsavoury the tamariki are still better of with their own rather than strangers.”

      I absolutely agree with you. But the reason children are removed is not because homes are a bit shabby and not quite as clean as they might be. Were it just that, many of us would have had our kids removed, had the Welfare turned up on a bad day!

      Children are removed because they are in actual danger: neglect, abuse of various kinds, meth being cooked in the kitchen, being belted up – or to death – by Mum’s boyfriend. That sort of thing. I’m sure that you know this. All anyone needs to do is to read the newspapers and to watch the news, when one of these awful crimes hits the headlines. And there are far too many of them for a country of this size.

      In my view, if they aren’t safe in their own homes, Maori children are better to be placed with – in the first instance -extended family. Failing that, they need to be with other Maori carers.

      And if the children being removed are Pakeha, then they need to be with extended family or with Pakeha carers.

      In both cases, children are better-off being placed with people who share the same cultural mores and ethnicity.

  6. – Chris and Cru Kahui. Nia Glassie. New Zealand has the fifth worst child abuse record out of 31 OECD countries and on average a dozen children or so die every year from abuse.

    Given the sorts of abuse and neglect so many Maori children are subject to, and the media outcry at the savage cruelty of the nature of crimes committed against so many Maori children when the state sits on it’s hands, it is difficult to conceive exactly what Oranga Tamariki are supposed to do. The Whanau of these children are well schooled in the angry rhetoric of victimhood but I think they are long on words that are cheap and short on deeds that are not.

    Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    • Sanctuary.

      I too was of the same ‘poor old CYFs they’re damned if they do and damned of they don’t’ mentality until a) I was personally involved in such a case (as a foster parent) about a decade ago, and b) I watched the entirety of the Reid video.

      Knowing what I know personally…if even half the program was edited for maximum effect, at the very least those social workers should be fired for being incompetent.

      Such a dreadful lack of communication and an appalling disrespect for other arguably more qualified professionals is unforgivable.

      Over 60 children were temporary members of our family and all of them needed to be in care for at least a short while to give the grown ups time and space to sort shit out.

      This system failed in many cases when CYFs seemed unable to even consider that the mother was capable of change for the sake of her children, much less pull out all the stops to support those changes.
      Alternatively, there were cases where it was patently clear the child was safer as far away from the parent(s) as possible for as long as possible, yet some dewy- eyed social worker with the ink still wet on a degree ‘felt’ that the couple had made the necessary changes despite evidence to the contrary.

      It is difficult, and it is nuanced, and it is going to require much, much more competent staff than those featured in Reid’s article to make CYFs/OT into the agency it needs to be.

      • Rosemary McDonald: “….if even half the program was edited for maximum effect, at the very least those social workers should be fired for being incompetent.”

        My impression was that the ideology – take babies at birth – had triumphed over common sense. Those social workers had orders, and they were intent on following them.

        It was truly awful to watch, especially all that tension surrounding a newborn and his mother. Surely it would have dawned upon those set upon the uplift – parents themselves, no doubt – that they were inflicting damage on that baby, even though they were there to rescue him? I understand why they were there: their intentions were of the best, I’m sure. But even so: I expected common sense to prevail much sooner than it eventually did.

        “…there were cases where it was patently clear the child was safer as far away from the parent(s) as possible for as long as possible, yet some dewy- eyed social worker with the ink still wet on a degree ‘felt’ that the couple had made the necessary changes despite evidence to the contrary.”

        Indeed. If my memory is accurate, that succinctly describes the James Whakaruru case.

        And for Oranga Tamariki, the art lies in accurately identifying which children come down on the side of having a redeemable parent, and which fit into the Whakaruru category. They will not always get it right.

        Delcelia Witika. That child’s name is seared into my brain. I had a child of the same age at the time: thus I couldn’t watch or listen to the dreadful details of her murder. I’ve since spoken to other parents who felt the same way and for the same reason.

    • There’s some truth in what you say Sanctuary. But it wasn’t always like that was it? The violence and drug abuse I think is part of a sense of hopelessness that those that neoliberal economic philosophy has deemed surplus to societies requirements. They are shut out of participation in the economy and hence in society. And CYFS and WINZ remind them of it at every interaction.
      The hatred that inevitably must be engendered among those on the receiving end of these actions can be imagined and it is the cost of the state having to act this way. It’s hard to believe that so many instances occur that justify such a heavy handed approach.
      If it really is justified on this scale something more fundamental has to change in how we rum our society because this will only multiply resentment , multiply depression , multiply violence and multiply state interventions in a spiral.
      D J S

    • What nonsense! Any attempt to imput that the connection between child abuse and state care is beneficial ignores the record of abuse of children once they have been placed into ‘care’.
      Statistically a child in government care, adoption or foster care is at far more risk of abuse (sexual, psychological or economic), than a child in the loving care of their whanau.

      When a child is at risk within their whanau the causes are complex frequently caused by the symptoms of prolonged inter-generational poverty. This is why the state now chooses to uplift, they have done the numbers and it is cheaper to slap some lipstick on the pig of kiwi poverty than to address the causes.
      Fixing poverty by replacing below the breadline McJobs with meaningful employment would rock the boat according to the greedy & selfish pricks in the beehive, so nothing will be done.

      It is crazy thing, one only has to look at the herald where Trevett, unable to beat up any stories about ‘reds under the bed’ in the airhead’s weak-assed coalition, is beating up gossip between the factions in the government.

      That reveals two things, Firstly the government is doing SFA, secondly even when there is no ‘closet socialist’ activities to report on, the media still tear them apart for not being good old boys of the comprador class, regardless of what they do.

      Why not actually do something Jacinda? It will make absolutely no difference to the way that the bourgeoisie are being instructed to perceive you, one can only conclude it is because your much vaunted empathy is like one of your expensive frocks, just something you put on when the occasion suits.

    • Sanctuary: “Chris and Cru Kahui. Nia Glassie. New Zealand has the fifth worst child abuse record out of 31 OECD countries and on average a dozen children or so die every year from abuse.”

      Well, this is the thing, isn’t it? I vividly recall the sad catalogue of Maori babies and children abused and killed by those supposed to care for them. And – lest we forget – not just Maori children, either, although they’re disproportionately Maori.

      I remember in particular James Whakaruru: somebody I knew had a connection to that case. I recall their fury over CYF’s decisions regarding that child’s placement, which resulted in his death. And – sadly – his killer has recently been before the courts again.

      While Melanie Reid’s video horrifies me, and the young woman in it had done nothing wrong, Oranga Tamariki sees the big picture of drug abuse and violence in Maori families. The social workers see the warning signs and are obliged to act on them.

      I don’t doubt that they also have in mind the lost innocents; they’ll remember all too well the public outrage at those children’s deaths.

      Nobody who’s held their (or a family member’s) newborn child could do other than feel the most desperate compassion for that young woman, the young father, and for her family. However, I’m guessing that taking a newborn before it’s had a chance to bond with its mother is the lesser evil, if one is considering the best interests of the child. Preferable to having to take a screaming toddler or older child. I suppose…

      A ghastly thing to have to do, though. Oh god, surely there’s a better way?

  7. My only question anymore of this rogue agency is – Will this change anything? Judging from the interview I have just seen with the CEO of OT = NO. She spent the whole interview being an apologist for the rogue agency, the rest of the time was spent telling us how proud we should be of these social workers who do such a hard job! Personally, I’ve always felt sidelined because of what happened with my son, now that the perspective is clearly only on Maori babies now, I feel worse than ever. That may sound selfish to some, come and live in my shoes.

    • Who brought her (moss) here and who employed her wasn’t it the national party for such a crucial role we should at least have a NZer in this position too many foreigners in our top public echelons little wonder there is so much racism and carp going on. cyfs are cunts I have had many dealings with them trying to get my brother kids out of there fucked up system they didn’t contact our whanau for the FGC and when I confronted them they made up all this bullshit and I caught them out by documenting everything and ringing other social worker to find out our rights and the right process.

      • Michelle Gray: “Who brought her (moss) here and who employed her wasn’t it the national party for such a crucial role we should at least have a NZer…”

        Gráinne Moss is Irish. I believe that Maori are very concerned about colonialism: if anybody should understand colonialism, it’s the Irish. I doubt that any NZer could provide the independent perspective that she can.

        “….little wonder there is so much racism….”

        Oranga Tamariki isn’t a racist organisation. Some staff may be ignorant about Maori culture, but that isn’t racism. People aren’t perfect: they do their best, but mistakes happen.

        It seems to me that there may be an element of denial about the level of crime, drug addiction and dysfunction in families – Maori and non-Maori – with which OT must work. They don’t take newborns just for the hell of it; I’m guessing that removing toddlers and older children is even worse for everyone.

        We’ll never know the counterfactual: how many lives they’ve saved by uplifting newborns and removing older children. It’s not a job any of the rest of us would have the cajoñes to do.

  8. We also have one of the highest incarceration rates for developed western countries only american is ahead of us and who is imprisoned ? the indigenous people, the black and hispanic peoples and has this worked, not in america they are releasing prisoners, now why? inhumane, too many living on top of one another. Many NZers sail through life and they don’t have to deal with the state the state is a mean beast and when you go into battle you have to have whanau support or Have a lawyer as we saw with the recent uplifting situation.

  9. There is a strong belief amongst the upper echelons of New Zealand society that children could be raised to be productive members of society if we could just “get them away from their useless parents”.

    The irony is that these ‘useless’ parents are the product of an underclass that was specifically engineered to be a living warning to the working class. Why else would the working class accept the crap working conditions they now operate under unless there was something far, far worse waiting for them if they didn’t comply.

    And this is no conspiracy theory – just good business sense being put into action.

  10. This is astounding journalism from someone whom I have respected in the past. The uplift of a child by Oranga Tamariki is the last resort – get that, the LAST RESORT. Any caring society would not leave children in the care of adults who can’t or won’t care for their children (neglect) or worse (abuse in all it’s forms). Of course right at the end of the spectrum is when children die at the hands of parents or caregivers – and then the media pipe up and who gets the blame … where were Oranga Tamariki? why didn;t they do more? oh the humanity … the reality is that when it comes to child welfare the buck stops with the Family Court and Oranga Tamariki as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Keep on bashing those trying to make a dent in New Zealand’s appalling child welfare and suicide statistics and watch outcomes for child go even further down the gurglar!

  11. It is a sad state of affairs when such an organization will recklessly remove children from their family homes when no apparent problem exists, yet when CYFS (as they were) were advised of a situation where one young child was being interfered with (and the other probably was as well) they refused to take any action.

    • The well known bureaucratic pendulum effect where cowardly bosses incapable of the critical thinking required to make intelligent evidence based decisions, swing from one extreme to the other slavishly aping media manufactured ‘public opinion’.
      When in doubt a child should stay within his/her whanau because all evidence points to a lower probability of an evil outcome if a child is with those connected to it by blood and familial love.

      I was a civil servant in another country for many years and a bloke who came to be one of the best players in our team, was the son of a catholic priest and a very young indigenous girl of the community he was meant to be assisting. The church whisked the boy away at age 6 and stuffed him in a parochial boarding school thousands of clicks from his family. He was the only indigenous student and was taught to feel inferior because of that. Plus he didn’t see his family for more than 20 years.

      After finishing school, the ‘brothers’ steered him into a job as a screw at a maximum security prison in the big city the church had abducted him to. His self hatred drove him down the usual path of alcohol abuse etc. Fortunately he hooked up with an indigenous woman from a rural area outside this city. She persuaded him to quit the job that was destroying him and move back close to where his family was, and he got a job with us which was when I met him.

      It took quite a time for him to gain any sort of self esteem, much less an ability to empathise with most other indigenous people, he had been well-indoctrinated by ‘correctional services’ or WTF they were named, but eventually he did, as well as getting to know his mother and his brothers and sisters.

      My workmate was lucky to have met such a great supportive woman as his wife, because otherwise he would have become just another depressing statistic, like the majority of stolen kids did.

  12. Our Maori whanau are speaking up like me i have had enough i am sick and tired of the racism it is entrenched in all of our government departments and our country. We need to stand up now like our ancestor did we need to fight for everything and we need to come together for this fight cause it is gonna get down right nasty. Be ready thousands more foreigners are coming to our country when we haven’t got homes or secure decent paid jobs this needs to stop now and it hasn’t.
    I would like to add i am so proud of our two Maori Nurses who stood there ground and helped this whanau and highlighted OT shortcomings.

  13. I’m with you on this Chris, but saying that all the police involved are “burly” is unnecessarily emotive language, untrue, and unnecessary – this horrendous story speaks for itself with almost unbearable eloquence.

  14. The most confusing part for me with these sorts of horror stories is, what do the Government, department or individual staff members conspiring to undertake these inhumane operations perceive to gain from the practice?! I can’t conceive of any benefit politically, personally or otherwise. Is it flat out sadism?

  15. From the Hawkes Bay Hospital site..

    Your rights
    Every person who uses health and disability services has rights. The organisations and people who provide health and disability services have duties. These rights and duties are clearly set out in the Code of Health and Disability Services – Consumer Rights.

    In summary, your rights under this code are:

    Right to be treated with respect
    Right to freedom from discrimination, coercion, harassment, and exploitation
    Right to dignity and independence
    Right to services of an appropriate standard
    Right to effective communication
    Right to be fully informed
    Right to make an informed choice and give informed consent
    Right to support
    Rights in respect of teaching or research
    Right to complain

    All these rights broken, trampled on, and disregarded.


    This is a young woman who has just given birth, for goodness sakes.

  16. There is no mandate for this. Let them taste steel!

    We’ll cry no tears for them


    Peace to the Ngati Kahungunu !

  17. I see the “useless” parents daily in my latest work. They are as you imply anything but useless. Poverty is a common complaint but it’s not just money. It’s connection, it’s community and so much more. These are not bad people or bad parents per se. And as a pakeha I see it in the pakeha community as well.

    I have no answers but I suspect that the state is not the answer. I can’t talk for Maori but I suspect hapu and iwi have ideas I’d like to hear them and support them, it’s their people, their destiny. And the rest of us need to do the same for our own because ultimately we are one people.

    • There’s so much desperation from people protecting there little rackets ability to keep making off of the Brown economy. So Oranaga Tamariki CEO, the foreigner has come out pretty hard for her little thiefedom. A recession must be close.

      So as Melanie Reids story says the senior police officer on the scene at the hospital had to go above the case workers head and contact orange children’s regional manager to shut the operation down. Chief among my concerns are the out and out lies spewed from the case workers of orange children which began month before.

      By for all intense and purposes the mother had followed and completed every mediated step to prove to the courts that she was a fit mother until the week of the birth. And then the case workers come along and lie about the long drown out process that the mother went through so Orange Children could insert there own unnatural process, lie to court judges and do a deal with the devil.

      I think Whanau Ora has got most of the stuff in place to make these deals with the devil redundant and make the portion of orange children regional manager in the Bay of Plenty redundant. Replaced with wraps around services which is exactly the care and process that orange children seek to deny so their little Oompa Loompas can make a buck. It’s wrong and just needs to be made redundant.

  18. We have blithely created a society that needs an organisation like Oranga Tamariki with an inevitability that any controversies would be about the mechanics of the way it operated.

    I remember the hoopla at its launching and wondered at the satisfaction and pride in celebrating having a really flash ambulance at the bottom of a really steep cliff.

    The discussion and being appalled has to happen but if it’s all about the vehicle and not what’s way back, way before the top of the cliff, we’d better get used to it – it’s a movie that’s serialised forever.

  19. This is a class issue as it is happening to white broke young mums too. One woman I met at age 27 has had four kids, all taken. Maybe good reason I do not know, but what I do know is when she was in stable relationship with a young teacher and was pregnant again the biggest fear of her life during her pregnancy was that she would have her baby taken at birth. She was threatened with this and sought references from ‘respectable’ people to say she was stable and would be a fit mum. ‘ References to keep your baby…what the fuck is going on here. Dicksonian does not cover it. Unbelievable.

    • Lone Comet: “This is a class issue as it is happening to white broke young mums too.”

      You’re right. And it has always been an issue of class, both here and elsewhere. No matter what’s being said about the current situation regarding Oranga Tamariki, skin colour and ethnicity are irrelevant. The only reason Maori babies and children are overrepresented in the care and protection area is because poverty – and the concomitant issues of crime, poor mental health, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, gang connections – disproportionately afflicts Maori.

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