Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Eugenics as Crime Prevention

The following blog is the first in a series of guest commentaries by scholars working on issues of interest and importance to Indigenous communities. The author of this commentary is 

Dr Antje Deckert

who writes about the resurrection of eugenics as a policy (and practical) process for 'controlling' Māori.

The Commentary
In August 2015, the New Zealand Children’s Commissioner reported that Child Youth & Families (CYF) recorded around 16,000 substantiated cases of child abuse in parental care, and 117 cases while children are in CYF care.[i] Most abuse cases in CYF care were of violent nature (physical or sexual abuse), while statistics on abuse in parental care also include neglect and emotional abuse.

Abuse statistics demonstrate that Māori children make up 42% of violent abuse victims (49% of physically and 38% of sexually abused children), while Pakeha children make up 33% of violent abuse victims (29% of physically and 50% of sexually abused children). Compared to Pakeha children, CYF considered twice as many Māori children to have been neglected or emotionally abused, which leads to total abuse statistics of 49% for Māori children, compared to 29% for Pakeha children. Therefore, any claim about the gross overrepresentation of Māori in child abuse statistics depends significantly on which forms of abuse are included in the analysis, and, arguably, which cultural paradigm defines neglect and emotional abuse.

Over 16,000 abuse cases in a total population of 1,161,387 children, means that 1.46% of Kiwi children suffer abuse while in parental care, compared to 3.04% of children who are in CYF care. However, this comparison neglects that most child abuse cases while in CYF care were reportedly of a violent nature. When discounting cases of emotional abuse and neglect in parental care, 0.29% of Kiwi children suffer violent abuse while in parental care, compared to 3.04% of children in CYF care. Arguably, this contradicts CYF’s mission statement that:

“A fundamental expectation we have is that children who come into contact with CYF should be better off as a result. […] CYF’s practice framework talks about keeping children safe from abuse and neglect, providing them with secure care.”

Institutional abuse disproportionately affects Māori children since they constitute around 55% of all children in CYF care. However, reporting on abuse cases in CYF care lacks a breakdown by ethnicity and indigeneity. Therefore, it is impossible to determine whether some children may actually face a lower risk of abuse in parental care than in CYF’s care.

Despite, or maybe because CYF fails to keep Kiwi children safe, the government is now contemplating another avenue in order to shed its responsibility for the prevention of child abuse – eugenics.

On 27th September 2015 NZ’s Minister for Social Development, Anne Tolley, was interviewed on national radio. The conversation revolved around the preliminary review, and recommended overhaul of CYF. The review was triggered by the 2014 Glenn Inquiry which had identified major shortcomings in CYF’s service delivery. Tolley was questioned about early intervention strategies, and specifically whether CYF considers stopping certain people from having (more) children. The Minister responded:

“That’s very difficult for the State to do. I certainly think we should be providing more family planning, more contraceptive advice to some of the families that we know […]. I mean I know of cases that CYF have taken a sixth and seventh baby from. […] That’s a big step when the State starts telling people [if they] can have another child […]. That’s a huge step for the State to take. […] I’ll wait and see what the panel reports. I expect that they will be saying that we should get much faster contraceptive advice in. We should be offering […] tubal ligations, all sorts of things.”

Since the Glenn Inquiry has revealed that CYF staff are “bullies” who interact with clients in a judgmental, punitive and disrespectful manner; one can only imagine how such contraceptive “advice” is going to be packaged. Tolley’s suggestion inspired at least one Kiwi blogger to consider possible delivery formats of such contraceptive advice, including “positive incentives (pay them not to have more kids or get sterilised) [and] negatives incentives (no further welfare if they have further children).” Since Māori dominate the statistics of households with four or more children, this eugenic crime prevention strategy would disproportionately be directed at women of Māori descent.

However, this is not the first time that a Minister of Social Development has considered eugenics as a form of crime prevention. Paula Bennett, then in office, suggested as recently as in 2012 that any children born to potentially abusive mothers could be forcibly removed, and that the Family Court could have the power to prevent abusive women from having any more children.

Throughout New Zealand history, eugenics have provided middle-class Pakeha women with a discourse of social reform that neatly tied into the ideals of colonialism and therefore enabled these self-proclaimed ‘feminists’ to participate in the national debate about ‘racial health’. They portrayed themselves as the ‘mothers of the race’ while prescribing eugenic solutions for ‘deviant women’. Without hesitation, Tolley is stepping into the footsteps of her ancestors.

Considering that around 3% of Kiwi children in CYF care suffer violent abuse compared to 0.3% of children in parental care, the first Family Court order for tubal ligation should be addressed to the State. Especially because the State is unable to act as a role model in keeping children safe from abuse, the government should scrutinise both its ethical stance , and historical practices of abuse before directing eugenic solutions disguised as ‘early intervention strategies’ at its citizens, and disproportionately so at Indigenous women.

Children’s Commissioner (2015). State of Care: What we learnt from monitoring Child Youth and Family. Retrieved from http://www.occ.org.nz/assets/Publications/OCC-State-of-Care-2015.pdf
Farrar, D. (2015, September 28). How to encourage bad parents to stop having kids. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz
George, P. (2015, September 28). Why did Tolley talk about contraception? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://yournz.org
Merchant, R. S. (2010). Who are abusing our children? An exploratory study on reflections on child abuse by media comments [MA thesis]. Massey University: New Zealand. Retrieved from http://mro.massey.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10179/1612/02_whole.pdf?sequence=2
Ministry of Social Development (2015). Modernising Child Youth and Family: Expert panel interim report. Retrieved from https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/cyf-modernisation/interim-report-expert-panel.pdf
Raumati, G. H. (2009). “Warrior genes” and the disease of being Māori. MAI Review, 2, 1-11.
Statistics New Zealand (2013). Quick Stats on Māori. Available from www.stats.govt.nz
Wanhalla, A. (2007). To ‘better the breed of men’: Women and eugenics in New Zealand, 1900-1935. Women’s History Review, 16, 163-182.
Wynd, D. (2013). Child abuse: An analysis of Child Youth and Family data. Auckland: Child Poverty Action Group.

[i] For the purposes of this analysis, it is assumed that abuse statistics affect the age group of 0-19 year olds, since CYF does not provide demographic details.

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