Irish Times view: Abuse on a massive scale in New Zealand

Quarter of a million children taken into care in state and church-run homes, detention facilities and orphanages suffered abuse

Nearly four in ten – or 250,000 – of the children taken into care in New Zealand state and church-run homes, detention facilities and orphanages suffered from abuse, a royal commission into historic abuse of children, young adults and vulnerable adults in institutions between 1950 and 1999 has reported.

The interim findings of the inquiry, the Tawharautia: Purongo o te Wa, lay out what prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who set it up two years ago, describes as the "unconscionable" treatment of young people and particularly the Maori. The report warns that such practices have not been entirely eradicated and complains that the redress system is complex and unsympathetic.

The abuse ranged from, most commonly, physical assaults and sexual abuse to unreasonable physical restraint, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as use of medication and medical procedures such as ECT therapy as punishment. Those who protested often got more.

Those most frequently abused, the report says, were from society’s most disadvantaged or marginalised, particularly from Maori and Pacific families, children from impoverished backgrounds, disabled people and women and girls. Many children were removed from poor homes, but were returned from state care to their families severely traumatised, the report recorded.


Maori children continue to be over-represented in the state care system, making up 69 per cent of children in care, and 81 per cent of children abused in care, although only16 per cent of New Zealand’s five million population.

Concern has been voiced that such abuse is continuing, and Glenis Philip-Barbara, assistant Maori commissioner for children, said the “devastating” findings reinforce the call for the phased closure of large care and protection residences, and the eventual abolition of the four youth justice detention centres.

Archbishop of Wellington Cardinal John Dew, again repeated the church’s regret at “the harm caused to so many by the abuse they suffered, and we continue to express our profound sorrow”.