Article by Barbara Lambourn , the national advocacy manager for Unicef NZ.
OPINION: In New Zealand we are well aware that we lag behind similar developed countries in rankings for child protection.
Our abuse figures continue to shame us. Stories of neglect and cruelty are daily media events.
But another level of abhorrence was added last week with the story of a child in California bought, adopted and traded for the purpose of satisfying paedophiles across three continents.
The perpetrators of this crime were tracked and the child rescued – with credit due to investigators at the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, police, Customs officials and others. New Zealand is a leader in the global effort to combat activities such as this and its ugly cousin, child pornography.
Our Department of Internal Affairs has been at the forefront of the worldwide effort to find and bring to account purveyors of activities that sexually exploit children.
The innovative Super Squirrel Hunter software at Internal Affairs has been customised for more than 20 other countries and is hailed worldwide as a major tool in the campaign to free children from sexual exploitation.
In 2011, six men associated with what was described as the world’s biggest paedophile ring, were charged with child pornography offences committed in New Zealand.
At that time Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael said he believed it was likely to be the tip of the iceberg. “It’s rampant in New Zealand and if the public knew the scale of the offence here, they would be appalled.”
The attitudes and behaviour of consumers of child pornography around the world degrades and puts all children, including our own, at risk.
It is a borderless crime.
Behind every single one of those images is a real child looking to the adult world to protect them. A report from Unicef in 2009 estimated millions of victims and stated that boys and girls of all ages and backgrounds and in every region of the world were subjected to this type of sexual abuse and exploitation.
The creators and clientele of the child pornography industry are unrelenting in their pursuit of victims. The child at the centre of last week’s case was a baby when he was purchased for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Especially concerning is that in most cases no-one knows who or where these children are and rescuing them from exploitation is deeply challenging. The expertise and experience of the investigator at Internal Affairs in New Zealand was the vital connection that led to the rescue of the little boy.
But the practice will continue until there is widespread awareness and acknowledgement that wherever such images originate, children are severely harmed.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, endorsed by every country in the world, and which New Zealand signed up to in 1993, obligates our state agencies to act always in the best interests of children. Article 34 commits us to protect children from any kind of sexual abuse.
We applaud the police, Internal Affairs and Customs for their vigilance and dedication to protecting children.
We need to continue our support and investment in these programmes to ensure that the evil industry cannot flourish here in New Zealand.