(Reuters) – New Zealand said on Wednesday it will put a virtual halt to the practice of taking at-risk children away from their families, a care policy that has long angered its indigenous Maori community.
Children deemed to be facing harm have been moved into state care for decades despite Maori criticism that the process is racially skewed and a legacy of colonisation. A vast majority of the children taken, a process known locally as uplifting, are Maori.
Thousands of Maori took to the streets in 2019 in protest after media reports that the children’s ministry tried to take a newnew-born baby away from her mother in hospital.
Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis said on Wednesday the government has accepted all recommendations of a ministerial advisory board on how to fix the child care and the protection system. The ministry had been told that removing children should be used only as a last resort.
“This report will end uplifts as we have known them,” Davis said in a statement, adding that future efforts would focus on community-led prevention.
In 2019-2020, 1,334 children entered state care, according to documents on the ministry’s website, of which about 60% were Maori.
Maori have called children taken into state care as New Zealand’s “stolen generation” – a reference to indigenous Australians forcibly taken from their families as children under an official policy of assimilation.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, seen as a global figure on issues of woman’s rights and social justice, launched a Royal Commission of Inquiry in 2018 into the abuse of young people in state care, saying the country needed to confront “a dark chapter” in its history.
The inquiry revealed in December that up to a quarter of a million children, young people and vulnerable adults were physically and sexually abused in faith-based and state care institutions from the 1960s to the early 2000s.