, WELLINGTON, Feb 1 – New Zealand ordered a high-level inquiry into historical abuse of children in state care Thursday, saying past failures must be acknowledged to prevent it happening again.
The establishment of the Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care meets an election commitment from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who took power in October.
It follows years of lobbying from former state wards who say they suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse while in care.
Ardern said the state effectively acted as a parent to society’s most vulnerable children and their abuse while in care was “unconscionable”.
“This is a chance to confront our history and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again,” she said.
“It is a significant step towards acknowledging and learning from the experiences of those who have been abused in state care.”
The inquiry will start hearings later this year into allegations of abuse dating from 1950 to 1999.
New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy estimated last year that 100,000 children were taken into state care during that period.
Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said the inquiry would take a close look at the impacts on New Zealand’s indigenous Maori population who have traditionally made up a large proportion of children in care.
Maori are the most disadvantaged community in New Zealand with higher rates of poverty, unemployment and imprisonment than the rest of the population, historically resulting in a disproportionate number of Maori children in care.
The royal commission — the most powerful inquiry that can be set up under New Zealand law — will be headed by former governor-general Anand Satyanand.
It will look at institutions which were directly run by the state — including orphanages, borstals and psychiatric hospitals — and those to which care was contracted out, such as churches.
No deadline has been set for it to report back and similar inquiries in Australia, Britain and Canada have taken years.