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New Zealand fails at human rights - Tactical Ninja

Mar. 8th, 2011

09:41 am - New Zealand fails at human rights

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Yesterday I emailed my lecturer and asked her about researching the coercive sterilisation of drug addicts as a state crime. She said she thought it'd be a very interesting topic and that the NHS connection in the UK is a very clear one, with the attitude of the US government able to be framed as a crime of omission. She was very clear that one line I would have to pursue is the removal of the right to family as a state crime.

So far so good. Yay, etc.


I read The Hand Mirror - a kiwi-based feminist blog that focuses also on issues of intersectionality. I don't agree with everything they say but it is nice to see something out there that is about us. And last night they posted a thing about the Welfare Working Group that's made me consider changing my essay topic: If only those poor people would stop breeding. Summary:

The Welfare Working Group thinks that people on benefits having babies is a bad thing. They have 'found the issue difficult'. They think that being on a benefit provides incentive to have babies. Their solutions?

1) Ready access to long-acting reversible contraception for all parents within the welfare system. I suspect this would probably be free of charge. I have no issue with this, in fact I think all contraception should be free.

2) "Strong signals to parents that a welfare payment is intended to provide temporary support while they get back on their feet and into employment." While they are not exactly clear on what they are recommending here, the next sentence says "In practice, for most this means taking active steps to avoid pregnancy while receiving Jobseeker Support." So what this seems to mean is that along with their proof that they are trying hard enough to find a job, they are recommending that people be expected to produce proof that they are using contraception as part of their 'work-testing' weekly meetings. Yes, this is not a joke - that's what they are recommending. I don't know about you, but while I'm totally fine with sharing information about my contraception with interested parties, I draw the line at anyone else telling me I have to prove I'm using it. That is an invasion of bodily autonomy that crosses the line from concern to coercion. I am totally not ok with someone's income being dependent on their use of contraception, regardless of their social class. And what about men, who do not have the same array of 'long-acting' contraception available to them? Will they have to produce used condoms in order to continue receiving their benefit? Or will they be coerced into having a vasectomy? Or will it, like it usually does, end up being laid at the feet of women because men are in the 'too hard' basket?

Coercing people into proving that they use contraception is government control of fertility - you know, like they do in China? Only in New Zealand, they want to focus it on a target group - the poor. As far as I can tell this doesn't breach any of the human rights treaties that NZ is party to, or the Bill of Rights Act, but I could be wrong. As far as I'm concerned though, it's a form of discrimination and it's wrong.

[EDIT] I was wrong. The right to form a family - Article 16, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

3) This is the real kicker IMO. Should said 'job-seeker' have a contraception failure, or choose to have a family, if "the changes to work test requirements do not address the incentives to have additional children while receiving welfare assistance"* - the WWG says: "the Government may need to consider financial disincentives, say by withholding part or all of the extra payments that come with having an additional child."

Yeah, you read that right. If someone has a kid while on a benefit, the WWG thinks the government should make the parent raise that child without any more help. You don't have to be any kind of mental giant to see how that would affect those already below the poverty line. I find myself wondering how that would affect our abysmal record of child poverty. I fail to see how making people live on the same amount of money with extra children will improve anything for anyone. I fail to see how a parent with two children is expected to get a job in those circumstances. I fail to see how the WWG can make this recommendation without having their fingers crossed behind their backs, and expect such a policy to make anything better, anywhere.

But that's not all. Such a policy would impact far more heavily on women - because whether we like it or not, it's much easier for a man to walk away from his child (witness: my own situation), and leave the mother literally holding the baby. And if right now you're thinking "Oh she could just have an abortion", read this. Your government is moving in the direction of making abortions harder to get, which again will impact more severely on the poor**. Also, Family Planning recently was forced to withdraw an application to start providing medical abortions in its clinics throughout the country. So no, 'just get an abortion' is not as simple as those who've never had one might think.

Lastly, there is something in our human rights legislation that covers this: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same protection."

- Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

So, um, from what I gather, this proposal removes the security we are promised in the event of unemployment, and ignores the bit about how all children shall enjoy the protection of their health regardless of their birth status. And it only removes it from one group of people - the poor.

* Yes, that's right folks. The WWG actually believes that the current DPB setup encourages people to have more children. I find myself wondering how many of those people have ever been on the DPB. Obviously they haven't read any of the debunking research for that myth (US based but equally true here, see myth 1). And please, don't give me your anecdata about that one or two people you know who (etc).. because I have anecdata too and NOBODY I have met has ever chosen to have a kid to get the DPB. So let's stick with the facts, eh?

** Currently in NZ you have to visit your doctor, then get two recommendations and an examination before you can have an abortion. I have heard that the shortage of doctors is making it hard to get timely appointments, and that there is currently a very real risk that a woman may not be able to gather all her recommendations before she's passed the 'use-by' date for abortion, after which they won't perform one. And that's without considering the cost of these appointments for those already living below the poverty line.

I have two final comments to make on this: first, New Zealanders like to consider this to be an egalitarian society. It is not, and anyone who claims that these recommendations are 'common sense' or who thinks it's ok to make invasions into the bodily autonomy of someone who is receiving assistance from us because they are poor, or who thinks that penalising people financially for doing something that richer people are able to do freely is all right because the 'bludgers' are 'milking the taxpayer', should perhaps do some damn research and learn some facts before spouting off about this. And probably take a long hard look at yourself.

"There but for the grace of God, go I"


Last thing - this could either fit with my essay topic, or become my essay topic. I am tempted.

First was still a bit wobbly this morning. The drugs they use on dogs seem to be considerably more potent than those they use on humans - either that or her venerable age has slowed her recovery. She ate last night and kept it down and she was much perkier today. Now, I wait to hear from the lab that is culturing her snot, and the other lab that has the right size scope, to see when she can get in. I might have to drive her to Palmy for it.

I have $300 left in my savings, after that it's going to get interesting depending on what needs doing next. But I get paid on Friday! ;-)

Comments:

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From:dragonvyxn
Date:March 7th, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC)
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my god... i hope that you do write an essay on that. it's unbelievable. i read your last essay - you're clear, coherent and well thought out, very enjoyable to read. :-)
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From:tatjna
Date:March 7th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I totally did a McEnroe when I read that.

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From:tatjna
Date:March 7th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
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You made a post? Link please.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:March 8th, 2011 12:46 am (UTC)
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Generally agree, but nitpicking:

"...penalising people financially for doing something that richer people are able to do freely"

While in an egalitarian society that wouldn't happen, but in most places poor people are penalised. There are many things people with money can do that those without can't... and rich people are not eligible for the benefits so can't be penalised. In fact, with progressive taxation, one could take the view that they are penalised for earning more. But all this shows (I think) is that money shouldn't be the basis for which to base decisions of human rights.

As I understand it, India and China's sterilisation programs are/were specifically targeted at the poor - so it might be worth investigating if this has had any noticeable effect if you end up doing this topic for the essay (if it hasn't, then obviously the argument for it has no leg to stand on).

I am a little conflicted though, since as overpopulation gets to be a bigger and bigger issue, and as I am also a fan of longevity research, I find any "right" to have children not particularly compelling. At the same time, impinging on bodily autonomy is also something I don't agree with. So I dunno.

Also, it's weird the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights chooses to say "found a family" and doesn't explicit say "have children".
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From:tatjna
Date:March 8th, 2011 12:53 am (UTC)
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"But all this shows (I think) is that money shouldn't be the basis for which to base decisions of human rights."

This so very much.

The word found is used, I think, to allow for adoption, fostering and whāngai type arrangements as well as reproduction.

From what I understand, overpopulation is less the current issue than distribution of resources. However, increasing longevity may alter this in the future. I'm not averse to forms of population control but when they are targeted at specific groups it looks scarily like eugenics. So for me it's less about the right to have children and more about the right to not be discriminated against based on class/income/employment status if you want them.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
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The thing is I think currently we need to make birth control much more readily available before we can make any judgement on birth rates with regard to population growth. Because if people were able to access birth control, those birth rates might look a lot different, and that's what we should be looking at, who's having kids when it's much more likely to be an active choice rather than something that just happens. Are people having them because they can't afford birth control, or because they think the benefits outweigh the financial strain? If it's the former, then the whole discussion is moot because we could work on making birth control accessible rather than debate the morals of restricting autonomy.
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From:vernacularity
Date:March 8th, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
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there's a whole bunch of stuff going on that disturbs me, and i am going to include the new gov gen being head of army/spy-services as one of them.
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From:vernacularity
Date:March 8th, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
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considering gov gen occupies a position top of our constitutional hierarchy
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
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Not to mention the eugenics programs in New England in the 1920s which supposedly were an inspiration to Hitler. Fun times! Though facts about it still happening now is definitely important since otherwise people are inclined to shove it in the "not an issue anymore" box.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
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PS (general audience since I'm pretty damn sure you already know):

People on welfare pay tax. Nyah.

I was making a couple of sarcastic comments on Twitter just last night about how, duh, NZ doesn't have race problems! Applies also to any other minority group, even if they have legal protections.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:56 pm (UTC)
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I was on welfare for a couple of years around the early 90s and again in the late 90s. I really needed it. During that time I paid tax at the going rate for my level of income.

Now, over 10 years later, the amount of tax I pay would provide the gross income for one person on the DPB. I've been paying that amount for more years than I was ever on a benefit. I find it very difficult to understand how people can ignore not only that people on benefits contribute according to their means, but also that people on benefits are more likely than not to contribute substantially more in the future.

And I really really don't get how anyone begrudges our collective contributions being pooled and used as a way of ensuring none of us starve. Considering the alternative makes me feel very misanthropic.

This is interesting - on how the poor contribute more than just tax.
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From:wildilocks
Date:March 9th, 2011 09:41 am (UTC)
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Sorry to mention anecdata, but I am a child of a single parent who did it for the AU equivalent of the DPB. I also know several people in AU and the UK (but not NZ) who've become pregnant with the sole purpose of going onto benefit and never having to work again if they can help it. While that life is not a great one, the ease of getting paid for the noble job of increasing the population, is indeed one that is implicitly encouraged both in AU and NZ from years of actively intending to increase the population. In 2006 in Methven I found a fascinating piece of NZ political propaganda from the 50's which blatantly told women they needed to have more children for the good of the economy. It's just what we were told we had to do.

I don't think we're in that world any more, but we have the political tendrils still woven in. While I don't agree with forcing anyone to use contraceptives against their will, providing more incentives to do so I think is not unreasonable. I don't think they are going about it in the right way, but I do think it's an important issue and needs careful handling.

I've long said in Oz the baby bonus should be maintained for the first child only, and the second child should be neutral/no bonus - but third and more children, people should have to pay for. Like a carbon credit, we should have reproduction credits, which you could sell if you chose not to reproduce; this is a way some poor folks could leverage themselves out of poverty; by selling their baby credits to the rich, rather than being co-erced into forced contraception. I know it'll never happen, but it's nice to dream of a society where we genuinely consider our carbon footprint and our legacy on *equal* terms and consider limits appropriate, instead of our obsession with endless growth and going forward and multiplying til we destroy the planet. I don't see how that's really great as a human right, in the long run.

Don't look at me like that. :P
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From:tatjna
Date:March 9th, 2011 10:03 am (UTC)
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How many people do you know of who are on the DPB and didn't have their children just so they could *cough* never work again? Because it seems among all the stories of these (usually women) who supposedly choose a life of poverty because they are lazy, I virtually never hear anyone tell stories of the vast majority who end up on benefits because of crappy life happenings. I wonder why that is.

I have no issue with incentives to use contraception. I have a big issue with aiming those incentives (and lets not forget the sanctions because they are the bit that add up to coercion) at only one group of people. And you're right, they don't want New Zealanders to have less children - last I checked our birth rate is pretty low and it seems as a nation we are afraid of the scary immigrants so they want us to breed more. So the idea of starting what amounts to a more-palatable eugenics program just seems even more like marginalisation. And it disgusts me.
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