In 1952 the Minister of Child Welfare in the McLarty government of Western Australia, Arthur Watts, introduced amendments to the Child Welfare Act to widen the definition of “neglect” to include children “living under such conditions as to indicate that the mental, physical or moral welfare of the chid is likely to be in jeopardy” [emphasis added]. These amendments were enacted into law with strong support from Liberal Premier Sir Ross LcLarty’s government.
The concept of the “moral welfare” or “moral well-being” of children and young persons is well-documented in case law, as is the nature of activities that when promoted or supported (AND even when there is a tendency to promotion or support), are “likely to be injurious to the public good” or “likely to [put] in jeopardy” the “moral welfare” of members of the public, including vulnerable children and young persons (see below).
It is the ever-present threat of “likely” harm and injury (mental, physical and moral) and their far-reaching negative inter-generational consequences, as well as the accepted Judaeo-Christian belief in human dignity (“Man made in the image of God” – often not acknowledged), that have undoubtedly undergirded successive governmental decisions (driven perhaps in part by quickened consciences and pragmatism) to enact child protection and censorship laws to safeguard our precious children and young persons from the dangers of exposure to child abuse, family violence, depiction of gratuitous violence and inappropriate sexual content in the media and exposure to morally corrupting hardcore pornography etc.
In the New Zealand censorship laws a publication is deemed to be “objectionable” and thereby “likely to be injurious to the public good” if it promotes or supports, or tends to promote of support” six listed activities, including the exploitation of children for sexual purposes, necrophilia and bestiality. The “moral welfare” of children is clearly put in jeopardy when they are given access to publications containing such content. Adults cannot even view such banned material lawfully, with the exception of censorship officials.
Government has empowered the NZ Police, NZ Customs officers, the Courts, the Office of Film and Literature Classification, The Film and Literature Board of Review, the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs and other enforcement agencies to ensure that censorship laws are enforced.
Child Youth and Family (NZ) acknowledge that the concept of “moral well-being” undergirded earlier legislation:
“The Child Welfare Act 1925 … was the first codification of child welfare as a professional activity. The legal grounds for intervention in the lives of families were: indigence (no person accepting responsibility for the child); neglect by parents; living in an environment detrimental to a child’s physical or moral well-being; not being under proper control; and delinquency. These differ somewhat from the modern emphasis on causation of harm to children as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse and maltreatment by reasons of neglect or deprivation. These earlier grounds shaped not only formal complaints heard by a Children’s Court, but also the informal work of the Child Welfare agency.” [Emphasis added – see ref. 1]
The “moral welfare” of children who live in close proximity (i.e. in a domestic setting) with those using their homes as a place of prostitution, even though making a living from prostitution is no longer unlawful, is clearly put jeopardy. Child, Youth and Family Services will intervene to remove such children from their ‘care-givers’ when they are alerted to such dangers.
If a child was allowed by her mother or mother to accompany her/him each time she/he went soliciting for sex on the streets and it came to the attention of the NZ Police, they would be required to intervene and ensure the safety of the child.
The concept of the “promotion” of “moral welfare” has a long history in the charitable sector within Western jurisdictions. For example, society clearly has a vested interest in the long-term, fruitful and successful nature of marriages and recognises the harmful nature of acrimonious marriage breakdowns, infidelity, partner abuse etc. Its social and enforcement agencies have officers empowered in law to intervene and/or assist in order to promote “moral welfare” – strong family life and wholesome personal values as the foundation of stable communities.
It is critical that non-government agencies and organisations promote the “moral welfare” of children and young persons and seek to have our government-appointed enforcement agencies supported and empowered to uphold “the public good” and prevent “”the likelihood of injury to the public good”.
1. Care and protection: Capturing the essence of our practice
“Some history of New Zealand’s approach to child welfare
By Mike Doolan and Marie Connolly