NZ’s war against children

Carl Jung was an early twentieth century psychologist who had a profound effect on the development of our understanding of the mind. His work on the ego, the personal and collective unconscious, extroversion and introversion are all well worth reading. As part of his work on the collective unconscious, Jung also developed our understanding of archetypes. Whilst Jungian psychology’s contention that archetypes are universal, autonomous and instinctual has been challenged (and they do tend to be euro-centric and gendered), the concept of archetypes remains a powerful looking glass.

Mayhaps this is a strange way to introduce a blog about our children. However, I think Jung, and Thomas Moore’s meditation on his archetypes in Care of the Soul (all quotes below are taken from his book), provides us a compelling view on child abuse and poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Three of the archetypes that Jung describes are the Father, the Mother and the Child. The Father is an authority, a decision maker, and provides guidance, leadership, and wisdom. Thomas Moore is concerned with the psychological absence of the Father in many of our lives, and describes the search for the restoration of the Father as a journey of “absence, wandering, longing, melancholy, separation, chaos and deep adventure.” The Mother is attachment, guidance, loyalty, affectionate and intimate caring, and bitter emotional pain. This archetype is “the foundational principle of all life”, and therefore exposes the Child to experience. The Child is the “aspect of all experience” and represents “everything that is abandoned, exposed, vulnerable and yet divinely powerful.” In the Child we are have a place for wandering and helplessness.

What fascinated me about the Child is that Moore suggests that “the more adult we try to be, the more childishness we betray,” and that “any move against the archetypal child is a move against the soul.” I felt cut to the core by his comments; he’s describing our country and how we treat children. As a collective our country has striven to strip away the Child: to have a strong and invulnerable economy; to be dark brooding Father figures in black jerseys on a cold field; to sit in suits at the long tables of the international community; to be an authority and a decision maker whom punches above their weight. We have no place here for exposure or for vulnerability. As we’ve moved to destroy our archetypal Child, the fruits are apparent in our treatment of our children.

Aotearoa New Zealand has the fifth worst child abuse record out of 31 OECD Countries. On average one child is killed here every five weeks;most of these children are under five and the largest group is less than a year old. Ninety percent of all child deaths are perpetrated by someone the child knew.

There were 148,659 reports of concern to Child, Youth and Family during year end June 2013.  Of these 57,766 were Police family violence referrals, 61,877 required further action, 22,984 were substantiated cases of child abuse and the economic cost to the country was $2 billion. These children are more likely experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, low academic achievement, drug use and mental health problems.

Any move against the archetypal Child is a move against the soul.

In 2012, 285,000 children aged 0-17 years (27% of our population) lived in poverty. Poverty is based on an international measure, which is living on less than 60% of the median national income after housing costs are taken out. Broken down by ethnicity, 34% of Māori and Pasifika children and  17% of Pākehā live in poverty. By comparison, the child poverty rate in the 1980s was 14%.

Twenty two percent of our children live in material hardship, which includes having worn out clothing or shoes, sharing beds, not reguarly having fruit and veges, delayed doctors visits, and having to put up with feeling cold. Sixteen percent live in persistent poverty, which is living on 50% less than the median income averaged over 7 years.

Any move against the archetypal Child is a move against the soul.

Yet we persist in the media and in politics in blaming individuals; this is personal, not collective failure. However our collective rejection of the Child is crystalised in our view of children. Childhood in Aotearoa New Zealand is not regarded as a state of being, but as a state of becoming. In Aotearoa New Zealand, childhood is part of your development into adulthood, not a valid experience of life in its own right.

Sophie Debski, Sue Buckley and Marie Russell researched attitudes towards children in the opposition to the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act. Whilst there are many quotes from submitters to the Select Committee, two stood out to me:

“Children by nature lack the wisdom and self-control needed to survive and prosper in this life, and in the life to come. In fact, they naturally tend to the opposite.”
“Children are children because they haven’t yet learned how they ought to behave.”

Debski, Buckley and Russell argue for the promotion of rights for children as human beings in their own right, rather than in relation to their parents. As they comment, other research shows that we have failed to grasp this well as a country; indeed we have “deeply held beliefs and attitudes” that support the repression of the Child with physical punishment.

The individual who kills or injures a child bears a responsibility for their act. The family in poverty who spends their meagre finances on cigarettes and alcohol bear a responsibility for their act. I have no doubt about this. But what about the community and society that struggles to accept that children have human rights of their own, who have created mythologies of a dark, gendered and shallow adult identity, who support violence in conflict, who have put economy over family? The community and society who have waged war against their collective Child bears ultimate responsibility for that individual and that family, as that community and society created them.

So the war on the Child continues. Don’t doubt that in the next few weeks we will hear about another child who was thrown against a wall or kicked or punched to death. Then we will turn our attention back to 15 dark men in black jerseys on a cold field, and we’ll will them on to a win, as a substitute for the victory we can’t seem to achieve in our own streets.



5 thoughts on “NZ’s war against children

    1. Thank you Toni, and it is heart breaking. When I stood back and looked at the statistics, my reaction was “what is wrong with us!”

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