The Minister for Children, Hon. Tracey Martin says there’s no immediate plan to change legislation that’s breaching New Zealand’s human rights standards under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Executive Director Meg de Ronde says it’s highly ironic that the updated Oranga Tamariki legislation recognises children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet, still allows for vulnerable young people to be remanded in adult police cells for several days, and the lack of urgency on the Minister’s behalf is troubling.
“Here we have, in the very same legislation, a provision remaining that can result in a 14 year old being held for more than two days in an adult police cell, sometimes with 24-hour lighting, in solitary confinement, and questionable access to adequate food and hygiene facilities.”
De Ronde says New Zealanders would be appalled to know children’s rights were being breached.
“Children being held in police cells because there’s nowhere else for them to go is not acceptable, especially considering many have not been found guilty of an offence. A law that breaches children’s human rights in New Zealand can and should change, urgently.”
In September last year official figures released to Amnesty International from Oranga Tamariki revealed teenagers were spending an average of more than 48 hours (2.6 days) in adult police cells in 2018, up from 1.8 days in 2014. The instances of youth in police cells for more than 24 hours also almost doubled from 2014 to 2018 with a lack of beds in youth justice residences being cited as one of the main causes.
In response Amnesty International recommended legislation be amended to remove the option to remand a young person in police cells, and this year it flagged the issue at New Zealand’s Universal Periodic Review under the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva.
Our international obligations, including under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, requires that children are only detained under exceptional circumstances and in an appropriate custodial environment. These Convention rights are now also explicitly recognised in the guiding principles of the updated Oranga Tamariki legislation, which came into force on July 1 this year.