State abuse survivors demand full inquiry

8:52 am on 6 July 2017

Former state wards who were victims of abuse will deliver a petition and an open letter to Parliament today, calling for a public apology and a full inquiry.

These six photos show some of the children who were placed into foster or state care in New Zealand between the 1950s and 1990s.

Some of the many children who were placed into foster or state-run homes in New Zealand between the 1950s and 1990s. Photo: Supplied

Between 1950 and 1990, more than 100,000 children were taken into state care, most of them Māori.

More than 1000 have told a special panel they were physically and sexually abused, and the government has paid out $17 million and apologised to 900 people.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has ruled out a universal apology, saying there is no evidence of a systemic problem, and won't agree to an independent inquiry.

The open letter has been signed by more than 10,000 people and will be presented to Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox and the petition, signed by about 5000, will be presented to Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei.

The documents, which will be delivered by Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, call for an apology and an inquiry, which has also been requested by the Human Rights Commission, Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori Women's Welfare League and every political party except National.

Some former wards who were abused while in care have now released photos of themselves as children to make the government pay attention to what happened to them when they were young.

Scott Mailman was just five years old when police removed him from his Cannons Creek home and, under the direction of the state, placed him in foster care.

He suffered daily physical abuse for years before being sent to the boys home at Kohitere, near Levin.

Many men have told RNZ the institution was worse than prison. They report stompings, beatings and sexual assaults by older boys and also government caregivers.

Life for Mr Mailman was never the same after he was taken from his home, where he said his family was loving despite suffering from alcohol addiction.

"You know I was safe as where I was ... no harm come to me [there], but it definitely came to me when I left."

One survivor has written a letter to Prime Minister Bill English, saying between 1969 and 1975 she was abused and raped in state homes in Christchurch, Waitara, Opunake, New Plymouth and Whanganui.

She said when she reported the abuse and showed the physical evidence on her body to a staff member nothing was done about it.

She said in the letter she could not make it to Parliament today because she would break down with emotion.

However, Mr Mailman has decided to make the trip.

"I've got my kids to support me ... that's a great help for me."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said she had friends and family who were in state care and who were abused.

She said the effects were long-lasting, both for those children who were abused, and for the children and families they went on to have.

And she said it was time for those families to share their stories so that it never happened again.

Apology won't fix it but it's a start - Race Relations Commissioner

Dame Susan told Morning Report many people had their childhood taken away from them, and it was time for the government to do the right thing.

She had spoken to someone who had called the Ministry of Social Development and was told to file a complaint, but had heard nothing about it for two years, she said.

The survivors wanted justice, and although that might look different for each one, an apology and inquiry were important, she said.

"An apology, you know an apology for something that happened to them. We can't change what happened to them, we can't make it better.

"Not only an apology but an inquiry to understand the extent of what went on and certainly to ensure that it never happens again ... that's what's really important.

"It's very obvious that the majority of the children that were taken were Māori, and look at the impact it's had on their lives."

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