Reporting child abuse in New Zealand – your obligations

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If a child tells you that they are suffering abuse, or you suspect that they are, it can be very difficult to know what to do to help to protect them.

Here, we offer an overview of the current law surrounding what constitutes child abuse, your legal obligation to report it, and whether these reports are confidential.

What is considered child abuse?

Child abuse involves the harming, ill-treatment, abuse, neglect, or deprivation of a child or young person.

However, it’s important to note that harm is divided into three different categories; emotional, physical, and sexual.

Some examples of child abuse given by the Ministry of Education include:

  • Family violence
  • Exposure to illegal activities
  • Rejection
  • Medical neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Neglectful supervision
  • Sexual abuse.

Who is considered a child?

A child is considered a person under 14, while a young person is anyone over 14 but under 17, who has never been married or in a civil union.  For young people between 14 – 17 years old, this definition exposes are large gap in protection suitable for their age because of their marital status.

Do I have an obligation to report child abuse? 

No, the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 outlines that a person “may” report the abuse or likely abuse to a social worker or police officer. 

Only police officers and social workers are legally obliged to report abuse that is disclosed to them.

You may however have an obligation to protect a child or vulnerable adult under the Crimes Amendment Act 2019. In this situation, you may be criminally liable if you do not take reasonable steps to protect a child or vulnerable adult, but the threshold for this obligation is high.

This means you are only liable if you fail to take reasonable steps and fulfill the following criteria:

  • You are a member of a hospital or institution where the child or vulnerable adult lives 
  • You are so closely connected to the child’s household you are considered a member 
  • You have frequent contact with the child 
  • You are aware that the child is at risk of death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual harm

This criteria does not include those that you might have expected must report child abuse, such as a teacher.

What protections do schools have in place for children?

Currently, schools have guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education on how to report abuse. Particularly in cases where the abuser is staff, and also in situations where abuse is in the home.

These guidelines define the law, but unfortunately do not encourage educators, who are often a child’s confidant, to report. They simply set out procedures that include involving higher staff, Police, and Oranga Tamariki.

Ultimately, it is at the discretion of the educator to report and isn’t mandatory.

Is reporting of child abuse kept confidential?

Yes. However, confidentiality can easily be overridden by a request under the Official Information 1982 and the Privacy Act 1993. 

This means that if a request is made to find out the identity of the reporter, it will generally be disclosed unless there is a reasonable risk to the reporter’s safety.

The Ministry of Education also notes that the confidentiality of the reporter can be overridden in the Family Court in rare circumstances.


How our experienced abuse lawyers can help sexual abuse survivors

At Shine Lawyers NZ, we have expertise in supporting clients who have suffered sexual abuse

Our lawyers are experienced in providing compassionate, considered legal advice to survivors of sexual abuse. We understand the importance of providing legal assistance in a respectful and empathetic manner, especially given the lifelong toll abuse can take.

Contact us today for a confidential chat about your legal rights.


Reporting abuse

If someone you know may be experiencing abuse we recommend calling:

Resources for sexual abuse survivors

If this blog brings up any issues for you, or you feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact one of these New Zealand services:

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