1 August 2023  Media Releases

UN calls out New Zealand’s youth justice record

The United Nations Committee against Torture has published its findings on New Zealand after in-person hearings earlier this month, highlighting its concerns about the disproportionate representation of Māori in the entire justice system and noting that transformational change is needed.

Acknowledging positive efforts by the Government to improve prison conditions and mental health services for those in detention, the committee raised a number of persistent problems in the youth justice sector.

The UN calls again on the Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 in line with the Convention Against Torture, and urges an end to the use of physical restraints such as pepper spray, spit hoods and solitary confinement for children.

The UN’s findings also highlight the fact that mokopuna Māori are overrepresented in the system, and call on the government to recognise its responsibilities under Te Tiriti o Waitangi to reduce these disparities, including giving greater consideration to tikanga Māori and partnering with hapū and iwi in the rehabilitation of young offenders.

Chief Children’s Commissioner Judge Eivers was part of the New Zealand delegation of child rights advocates who also attended the Committee in Geneva to observe and monitor the review.

Judge Eivers has repeatedly called for a re-set of the youth justice system and the need for therapeutic, iwi and hapū, community-based and non-custodial solutions for young offenders.

“Time and again, our monitoring work in youth justice residences as a National Preventative Mechanism has shown that transformational change is needed across the system.

“Our reports bring up a number of concerns, including use of secure care, assaults between mokopuna including the use of weapons, unaddressed mental health issues and a lack of therapeutic and occupational programmes. We continue to do the least for those who need it most.

“Staff have also told us they feel untrained, and unsupported in their very challenging jobs.

“Sadly, the concerns and recommendations from the Committee do not raise anything new but rather, echo areas of concern raised repeatedly by past Children’s Commissioners and others.

“The fact that the UN is also urging our government to make transformational change should be the compelling factor it needs to better support our mokopuna in the system.”

The UN was also seriously concerned that no individual had been held accountable for the numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment of young people in institutions linked to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into state and faith-based care, and that full redress for victims that not been provided.

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Editor’s notes:

  • The documents relating to New Zealand’s hearing at the UN Convention against Torture, including the recommendations, can be found here.
  • A livestream of the Government’s dialogue with the UN can be viewed on UN Web TV.
  • New Zealand will next go before the Committee in 2027.
  • Recent OCC monitoring reports into all residences can be found here.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Melissa Wastney (she/her)
Kaitohutohu - Communications and Media Advisor
Mana Mokopuna | Children and Young People's Commission
029 909 2715