Thousands of Maori people protested across New Zealand yesterday calling for an end to the practice of taking at-risk children away from their families, as tensions grow between the indigenous community and the government. Children facing harm have been moved into state care for decades despite criticism from many Maori people, who believe the process is racially skewed and a legacy of colonization. Most of the children taken into state care are Maori. Newsroom, an online news site, reported recently that officials from the children's ministry, called Oranga Tamariki, tried to take a new-born baby away from her mother in hospital.
The report sparked public outrage and is potentially embarrassing for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is known globally for her compassionate style of governing, but is also accused by her critics of ignoring domestic issues.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of parliament on Tuesday shouting slogans and carrying placards that said: "Hands off our tamariki," the Maori word for children. Protests were also held in other major cities. Protesters call the children New Zealand's "stolen generation," a reference to indigenous Australians forcibly taken from their families as children under an official policy of assimilation.
Oranga Tamariki said in a report last week more than a hundred children had been harmed while in state care in the first three months of the year. The dispute presents a challenge for Ardern's Labour-led coalition, which needs to keep its Maori voters ahead of an election next year.