New Zealand A Great Place To Raise Kids? Porirua’s Midnight Express

New Zealand is a great place to raise kids.

That’s the reason that many people cite for wanting to relocate their families to New Zealand, or they’ll wistfully opine that NZ is the  place where ‘kids can be kids for longer’ but how realistic are those aspirations and what’s life really like for young people?

Children in New Zealand get a pretty raw deal – the country is ranked joint third in the world by UNICEF for the highest number of  child maltreatment deaths (1.2 per 100,000 children) only the US and Mexico have more. Young  people also feature highly in crime statistics, both as perpetrators and victims.

Kiwi youth suffer some of the worst health outcomes in the developed world. New Zealand youth have higher rates of mental illness, suicide, teen pregnancy and suffered more injuries than young people in other OECD countries. (source)

In addition to an alarming teen suicide rate kids also have a problem with alcohol. So much so that the Chief Coroner says he is shocked and frustrated by the high number of very young teens (some as young as 13) who drink themselves to death in New Zealand. It’s another symptom of the country’s hard drinking/binge drinking culture and a bored, disaffected youth.

One thing we’ve noticed over the last year or so are the increasing numbers of children involved in violent crimes such as armed robberies and muggings. The latest of which was the gang of teenagers that held up the Ranui Food Bar and Takeaway with hammers and a gun in West Auckland last night, just as the shop was closing at 9pm. Their ill gotten gains included of all things a fresh stock of ice creams from a freezer. (source)

“…A girl wearing a cap and hoodie pulled over her face pointed a gun at owner Yunan Zheng, who was vacuuming the front of the shop.

“The girl with the gun said, ‘Hurry up, give us some money’,” Zheng said.

Two others brandished hammers as they rushed into the shop and filled backpacks with icecreams from a freezer.

One tried to take cash from the till but was unable to open the drawer.

The group were caught on security camera, but wore hoods pulled over their head, and scarves or T-shirts wrapped around their faces.

Zheng said at least three of the robbers were girls, and suspected two were the same pair who robbed the shop on New Year’s Eve, when they made off with cash from the till.

The two robberies were the first incidents in five years at the Swanson Rd business…” more

The Herald went on to remind its readers that shops had been robbed by sweet toothed gangs of armed kids before in Auckland:

“It’s not the first time young offenders have held up Auckland shopowners for lollies (ed. sweets) and icecreams.

In March last year three boys robbed the Edendale Superette in central Auckland at gunpoint, filling a bag with icecreams and chocolate and taking cigarettes and about $400 in cash.

Shopkeeper Shazia Hussain was alone in the shop with her two-month-old baby at the time.

The boys had been captured on security camera in the shop earlier that day with their faces uncovered.”

But sometimes these gangs of kids become excessively violent and injure their victims, and they’re not all looking for lollies and icecreams either as other recent robberies have demonstrated:

Asian businessman Richard Tang was stabbed eight times by a gang of bandana wearing youths who stormed into his dairy in Papakura, they escaped with just $200.

In Papkura a gang of five kids (two aged 17 and three aged 14) held a pistol to the head of Ben Sun as they robbed his dairy in New Plymouth.

Pregnant woman, Mrs Sarah Fergusson, was robbed by a 16 year old youth wielding a knife at her fruit and vegetable shop, also in New Plymouth.

The rise in youth offending has been attributed to the breakdown of family life in certain areas of New Zealand, the effects of the recession, grinding poverty and kids being treated far too leniently by the justice system.

There’s an excellent feature article written by Matt Calman in the Dominion Post, in which he talks about The Midnight Express that patrols the streets of Porirua (an area very popular with western migrants)  their mission is to keep youth – mainly between 11 and 18 – safe in the “unsociable” hours of the night and early morning. It’s worth a read if you have children and are thinking of moving them to NZ for a ‘better life’.

If you’re already living there, what are your kids doing this evening?

It’s a Safe Ride on the Midnight Express

…Ms Barnden says every time the team heads out, there is the potential for danger but it is not the youth they fear. “It’s not actually the kids that are dangerous. It’s the environment. We don’t know who does carry a knife. It’s purely because there’s no structure at night.”

It ticks past 11pm as the van drives past the three teenage girls huddling beside the Hill 16 bar. One yells out: “Get lost Midnight!”

“…When they reach Calliope Park the youth workers leave the van for about an hour and chat to a 20member group aged mainly 15 and 16. As they arrive, two drunken teenage girls stumble, arm-in-arm, towards their friends gathered in the dark near the play equipment. The park is one of the most popular meeting points for youth in Porirua East…

…Ms Barnden says the main threat to youth late at night is from adults, particularly a small number of suspected sexual predators they have seen approaching teens.

The youth workers carry suspect- description forms, provided by a security firm, and take details of potential offenders to pass on to police.

When they see these men talking to the teens they will enter the conversation so the men know they have been noticed.

One man in his late 40s or early 50s carries a motorcycle helmet and tells teens he is a tramper from Titahi Bay. He offers them cigarettes and his jacket and carries $200 cash with him

“He plays cat and mouse with intoxicated girls,” Ms Barnden says. “Apparently he has been seen in Johnsonville now.”