Suspected child abusers could be banned from being around children for up to 10 years without being convicted of a crime under a proposed new law to be announced today.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the restrictions could see up to 80 people a year slapped with orders preventing them from working, living and socialising with children, with penalties imposed on those who break the ban.
If police or Child Youth and Family believe “on the balance of probabilities” someone poses a threat to a child, High Court or District Court judges could impose the 10-year ban, similar to restraining orders in cases of domestic violence.
Bennett expects a battle from human rights and civil liberties groups but believes she has the support of New Zealand for the moves.
The law, which is among a raft of child abuse prevention measures to be unveiled today, would also allow police to tell parents if their partner was the subject of such a restriction.
“The court can consider a pattern of behaviour, so it might be that in some cases police have high intel on an individual and their behaviour has been considerably concerning. They don’t have enough evidence to take them to court but they might ask that the courts put a civil order against them.”
Bennett admits the law will be controversial but says she is putting the welfare of children first. Too many children were dying and on the balance of probabilities, the crime was committed by the “one adult in the room”. But the threshold of proof was too high.
“Far too many of the serious cases of abuse of kids that have been killed, it is often a non-blood relative, so the boyfriend if you like. Sometimes they can be very hard to take to conviction or of course they are alone and the wee child can’t speak up.”
Under the proposal to go out for consultation, qualifying offences could include suspected sexual violation, incest, sexual grooming, indecent assault and murder.
It would restrict where those people could work, live and socialise. “For example, it might be that the person cannot live, work or associate with children, it might be that they can’t hang around parks or pools where children might be.”
The restrictions, and how the threat would be assessed, would be finalised over the next few months but Bennett admitted they could be “very restrictive”. The orders were designed to complement the courts process and provide an extra layer of protection for children.
She said most orders would likely be imposed on those with prior convictions but there would be others who had clean records.
There were measures in place to rehabilitate abusers but children’s safety had to be put first.
The law is expected to hit about 80 people each year but Bennett said there were about 22,000 substantiated cases of abuse and neglect each year.