Submission by Multicultural New Zealand on New Zealand’s Fifth Periodic Report under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Government’s draft periodic report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning New Zealand’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).
Multicultural New Zealand represents 19 multicultural councils operating throughout New Zealand as well as advisory councils for women, youth, seniors, and business. We provide a collective voice for ethnic, migrant and refugee communities.
We were represented at the consultative meeting held at the Ministry of Social Development in Wellington on 3 February 2015. We support many of the issues raised by other NGOs present at that meeting, but in this submission will focus on those matters directly impacting on children and young people from ethnic, migrant and refugee communities. Our comments are as follows:
2. The invisibility of children from minority ethnic groups
We would first like to make a general point that children and young people from minority ethnic communities other than Māori and Pacific receive scant mention in the report, although some important ethnicity data is included in the accompanying statistical tables. We believe that the main report should note at the outset (in the overview) that New Zealand is undergoing a dramatic process of demographic change and that the ethnic diversity of New Zealand’s children and young people is rapidly increasing. It is notable from the statistical tables that 51.7 per cent of New Zealand’s children and young people are of Māori, Pacific, Asian and MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin American and African) descent, and this percentage is even greater in the Auckland region. The report should reflect this diversity and identify the issues facing children of minority ethnic, as well as Māori and Pacific descent. It should be acknowledged that a challenge for the Government is to ensure that the rights of all children and young people are addressed in this context of increasing diversity.
3. Children unlawfully in New Zealand
We welcome the fact (as reported in paragraph 20 of the draft report) that the Government has taken administrative action to ensure that children unlawfully in New Zealand are able to enjoy their right to education. However, we are disappointed that they are only able to enjoy their right to health in a limited fashion (as reported in paragraph 21), and that the Government has no intention of changing this. We believe that all children should have access to free primary health care, irrespective of the immigration status of their parents. This would be consistent with the application of the Convention to all children in New Zealand, as affirmed in paragraph 34.
4. Vulnerable Children’s Board
Consistent with our concern that specific attention needs to be paid to the growing number of Asian and MELAA children and young people, we believe that the Government should consider appointing the Director of the Office of Ethnic Affairs to the Vulnerable Children’s Board referred to in paragraph 37, alongside the Chief Executives of Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.
5. Diversity in education
We note the reference to “diversity in general” in paragraph 65, referring to the New Zealand Curriculum requiring schools to develop programmes that help students to value, among other things, “diversity as found in our different cultures, languages and heritages”. We are particularly concerned at what we perceive to be a lack of action by schools and the Ministry of Education to provide opportunities for students to learn and maintain their heritage languages, other than in the case of Māori students and, to a very limited extent, Pacific students. We are not confident that the statement that “students’ identities, languages, abilities and talents are recognised and affirmed” is true with regard to community languages. We note the reference in paragraph 71 concerning refugee and migrant children and their families, and to the research by the Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research on Chinese, Pacific and Muslim youth. We consider that further initiatives are required in this area, including in relation to the ethnic discrimination experienced by “visible immigrant groups”. Paragraph 72 refers to the Ministry of Education’s Migrant Education Co-ordinators. While we welcome the work of these co-ordinators, we observe that they are few in number. It would be appropriate to specify the number of coordinators in the report, separate from the ESOL and international student support staff in the Ministry’s migrant and refugee support group. It would also be useful to know how much funding is available to support schools to employ bilingual staff, support workers and interpreters. A reference to the number of international students in our schools would also be appropriate, and what measures are taken, for example, to ensure their safety and wellbeing. We note that international students are not currently referred to anywhere in the draft.
6. Preservation of identity
The draft report states at paragraph 87 that “New Zealand continues to recognise and support the right of the child to preserve his or her identity.” In the following paragraph, reference is made to fostering and protecting the cultural identity of Māori, including through the provision of Māori language education programmes. We welcome the investment in Māori language education, but note the absence of any reference to the learning and maintenance of Pacific and other community languages. We note that there is a Pacific Languages Framework, (not referred to in the report), although the level of investment in Pacific languages is meagre. In the case of community languages, there is not even a framework. The Government’s attitude to the development of a community languages framework and a national languages policy encompassing all languages should be outlined in this section or under the heading of children belonging to minority groups.
7. Children belonging to minority groups
We note that under this heading, the draft report only refers to migrants, refugees and their families, and then only to settlement support and refugee assistance. Ethnic minority groups and migrants and refugees are not one and the same thing. Many children from ethnic minority groups are New Zealand born and so are many of their parents. Article 30 of the Convention is about ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, not about new migrants. It would be appropriate in this section to specify what the situation of children and young persons from ethnic minorities is and what programmes or strategies the Government has to address their current and future needs. This could include reference to supporting communities to maintain their community languages, for example by developing a community languages framework.
We have restricted our comments to matters directly relating to children and young people from ethnic, migrant and refugee communities. We recognise that some of the matters we have raised have not been addressed by Government, and in such cases we are signalling that we may raise these with the UN Committee ourselves by way of a shadow report. Overall, we believe the report paints a rather rosier picture of the situation of our children and young people than is actually the case or is portrayed by a careful study of the tables in the statistical report. We are struck in particular by the social and economic inequalities suffered by many of our children and young people, particularly Māori and Pacific. We acknowledge that many of these issues are difficult and of long standing, but an honest assessment is more valuable than listing a wide variety of strategies and programmes. We believe the UN Committee, like us, will be keen to hear what the challenges are, what has been achieved in the reporting period, and what needs greater attention in the future.