By Simran Sonawalla
A new law designed to improve the oversight of agencies responsible for protecting children, and young people who are at-risk is currently being debated in parliament. As it stands, there have been several critiques and support for this bill.
The Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission Bill aims to establish independent monitoring and complaints oversight for Oranga Tamariki, with the overarching goal of providing greater advocacy for children and young people’s issues .
This Bill proposes to:
- Establish the office of the Independent Monitor of the Oranga Tamariki System to assess how child welfare agencies support children, young people, and their families . This new monitor will be a departmental agency within the Ministry of Education .
- Replace the Children’s Commissioner with the Children and Young People’s Commission. This commission will be an independent Crown entity with the ability to hold the government accountable on matters relating to children and young people .
Arguments Against the Bill
This bill has been criticised by politicians, legal academics, and non-profit organisations such as Save the Children, Amnesty International, and the Human Rights Commission. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern at the system of protecting children’s rights in Aotearoa New Zealand . Furthermore, non-profit organisations like Save the Children have stated that the Government has disregarded their commitments to te Tiriti o Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in developing this bill .
Many legal academics agree that the current bill does not allow Māori to independently exercise authority over their communities including the care and protection of children and young people, as promised in te Tiriti o Waitangi . In particular, Dr Fleur Te Aho states that “Not only has the Government decided not to establish a Māori-led transition authority or provide for Māori tino rangatiratanga over the care and protection of tamariki Māori, but it has also pushed ahead with the Bill and failed to engage with Māori on its development in a way that reflects our status as Tiriti partner and as Indigenous peoples.” .
Further, the proposed structure would make the monitor of Oranga Tamariki a departmental agency and not an independent Crown entity, eliciting criticism from Green party spokesperson for Children, Jan Logie who criticised the bill on the grounds that “within the structure of Government agencies who, report after report, have been identified as failing Māori.” 
Arguments in Favour of the Bill
While these changes have been met with much criticism, there has been support for this bill to be implemented.
The Hon Andrew Little, Minister of Health and Minister for Social Development and Employment, the Hon Carmel Sepuloni, support this bill to address the need for “a trusted monitor who can provide evidence of how the system is meeting the needs of tamariki, rangatahi, and their families and whānau”. With the increasing numbers of child abuse crises since the beginning of COVID-19, National member Joseph Mooney expressed his support, saying that “there is a need for public confidence to be rebuilt and certainly independent oversight would be valuable in helping build that confidence.” .
Supporters of this bill believe that this would ensure that children’s wellbeing and their rights to health, housing, and food will be enforceable through national courts, making it easier to hold the government accountable .
Whose interests are being served in implementing this bill? Who should hold the power to determine the best interests of children and young people? Will this bill truly protect the rights of children and young people as intended to, or will it continue to weaken their rights?