'Give children love, not anger,' Flaxmere counsellor says

By Te Ao - Māori News

Warning some of the images in this story may be disturbing to younger viewers, we advise discretion.

Debate around the legal right to remain silent has resurfaced after a four-year-old boy was left brain-damaged from a prolonged attack while in the care of family members. Police say the family were hindering the investigation by withholding essential details. As public pleas to speak up intensified, so too did the anger in the community.

A Flaxmere counsellor says the entire community has felt the ripple effect of an innocent child suffering permanent brain damage due to abuse. 

"I was angry, you know we've fostered over 200 children and many of those children come from, yeah they weren't brought up, they were dragged up. And I saw their faces, I saw their hurt, the pirua, the mamae," Henare O'Keefe says. 

"And even when we are fostering children, when they used to come to us in that state I used to get mad, how dare you treat these defenseless pure vessels like that. What the heck makes you tick?"

Police accused the whānau of disrupting the investigation and the immediate attention of the government was turned to making it possible to punish people who remained silent, by tweaking a law linked to the basic rights of a human being.

"This is much about those who are around the situation, who see it happening, who know it's happening, who have been told its happening and who do nothing," National Party leader Simon Bridges says.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says, "It's an appalling situation but then if you want to write a law to try and deal with that you've got to consider how much compulsion that adds and how much encroachment on the rights of the innocent."

No one has ever been convicted for the deaths of Chris and Cru Kahui in 2006. A cone of silence was another issue with whānau at the time. As a result, the law was looked at and tweaked slightly but the issue remains.

"It wouldn't prevent the deaths of our babies because you're talking about a cone of silence and releasing that. No, it wouldn't prevent the death of babies. Whatever the solution is we are not going to wrest our way out of it, we are not going to legislate our way out of it," O'Keefe says. 

"At the end of the day, as I said at the Flaxmere hui and this may not resonate with everybody but if you really want to make a difference take a look in the mirror."

While the devastation remains, this Flaxmere representative is heartened to see his community uniting moving forward.

"Every conceivable feeling and emotion known to mankind has been pouring in and out of our community, but I'm really proud of them you know.

"In and amongst the anger, once they got angry all of that and they kind of moved past that and they all decided, these are their words not mine - 'It's up to all of us. Yeah, you blimmin' look after your kids bro, look after them. And you make sure you go to work tomorrow.' So all of that was coming out as well," he says. 

O'Keefe says in the end he hopes the entire country will make a commitment to give children love and not anger so they have a chance.

"Bad things happen if good people do nothing and there are solutions out there. But you can give a child love, give them a sense of value and give them all those things and just dump it on them big time, there are still no guarantees. But if you don't give it to them, they don't stand a chance."