Submission on the Re-evaluation of the Human Rights Protections in New Zealand discussion paper

National Committee
Father and Child Society


The New Zealand Father and Child Society was established in March 1998 and formally incorporated in November 1998. It was created to give local father groups/organisations support in setting up and running their initiatives, as well as giving better access to information and improve communication between these groups. It was also formed to represent fathers on a national level.

At the local level, the various organisations that form part of the society have programs that support fathers and children. For example, the Christchurch Father&Child Trust has been extensively involved in supporting new fathers and their families over the last 2.5 years through regular participation in antenatal classes of three Christchurch birthing providers, publishing a full-colour resource distributed to new parents through the hospitals and involvement in postnatal programmes targeted at postnatally depressed women and their partners and parents under 25. The same organisation also runs Supervised Access for fathers.

As a further example of our locally based work, in 1999 the Wellington Father&Child Trust organised a social policy forum examining the changing roles of fathers in New Zealand society. In 2000, the Wellington Trust organised a very successful one day conference to bring together research, practice and policy on how New Zealand can best meet its commitments under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 18. Papers from both conferences can be found at

At a national level we are involved in a number of initiatives. However, one is developing a national information network to support positive involved fathering. As part of this our web site can be found at

At both the local and national level the Father&Child Society and its member organisations have been very supportive of the concept and practice of shared rights and responsibilities in parenting both for intact two-parent families and for couples that no longer live together. On a day-to-day basis, our organisations provide support to fathers in a wide range of family types including fathers in two-parent families who undertake the majority of the childcare, sole fathers who are juggling work and family responsibilities, as well as fathers who are separated from their children. In this goal of achieving equality in parenting we recognise that women have faced barriers, including direct and indirect discrimination with regard to their full participation in the labour force. We recognise further change is needed in women’s employment to allow men to share parenting equally and support the continued ability of government agencies to deal with issues such as employment discrimination and sexual harassment (Breiding-Buss 2001). However, both through research and from stories of our own clients we are also aware of discrimination against men when trying to be fully involved in parenting. For instance, some organisations such as Playcentre have in the past only provided services that focus on mothers, that changing rooms for babies in public places have often been in women’s toilets, and employers have often discriminated against fathers wanting to work part time or to work flexible hours (see Birks and Callister 1999a&b). There is also a belief by many men and women that the Family Court discriminates against fathers (Julian 1999).

Children’s rights, women’s rights and men’s rights – Are these in conflict or is there common ground?

In recent years, a human rights framework has been increasingly drawn upon to address various social and economic inequities. In New Zealand, as well as internationally, in the 1960s and 1970s there was much focus on promoting the rights of women in all areas of public and private life. For example, during this period the United Nations established the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In the 1980s, debates on children’s rights started to emerge both nationally and internationally leading to the adoption by the UN in 1989 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. More recently, in the 1990s, there has been the emergence of a "men’s rights" and / or "fathers rights". Part of this interest in men’s rights is driven by the exclusion of a significant number of men, and in New Zealand particularly Maori and Pacific Island men, from work and / or from family life (Callister 2000a). In particular, the Family Court has been seen as a key institution in excluding a significant number of separated fathers from meaningful relationships with their children.

Women’s rights and children’s rights have generally been seen as progressive and mutually supportive. The idea that women’s rights and children’s rights can be promoted together can be seen in the current government’s appointment of the same person as minister of both the Women’s Affairs and Youth Affairs. We believe that these two roles should be separate as women’s and children’s rights are not necessarily synonymous.

In contrast, men's or fathers' rights often tend to be perceived as in opposition of those of women and, at times, not in children's best interests. However, there is much common ground. For instance, most of the women's and the men's movements would like to see equal access to parenting and work roles, and both movements strongly feel about improving the situation of our children.

In political discourse, men’s and father’s rights are sometimes portrayed as being parent centered rather than child centered. There are two problems with this depiction. First, in most legal discussions (outside of family issues), rights and responsibilities are seen as indivisible. Responsibilities cannot be fulfilled without having rights. So discussions about fathers rights are just as much discussions about responsibilities. The right to a meaningful relationship with your children necessarily includes the provision of both material and emotional support for their benefit.

Second, the discourse that the child’s interests are paramount while being of utmost importance disguises issues such as age and power differences. To a certain age, children simply do not have a "voice". Even when they do have a voice, there are power imbalances between adults and children. Parents and others can shape children's perceptions of a situation and of the options available. This is clearly recognized in literature on parental alienation (e.g. Rand 1997a&b). Therefore, adults are often making decisions about the best interests of the child.

A study of history shows that what is considered in the interests of the child has changed significantly over time. For example, at one stage it was considered in the best interest of adopted children that they did not know the identity of their biological parents. This view has now substantially changed. Increasing research show that on-going contact with fathers post separation is important for children’s well-being (for international examples of such research see recent editions of the Journal of Marriage and the Family). In New Zealand, Robin Fleming’s (2000) research has shown that biological links are very important to children. The best interests of the child should be determined by on-going debate and research but concepts will continue to change. As part of this debate consideration needs to be given to ideas and concepts being promoted by groups representing fathers.

Overall, the government and its agencies must be seen as treating the concerns of men’s and fathers' rights groups as seriously as the concerns of organisations promoting women’s rights or children’s rights. Various indicators suggest that this is not the case. For example, the Human Rights Commission currently has a specialist women’s advocate but no specialist men’s rights advocate. Moreover, the list of NGOs consulted in producing the discussion document on which we are commenting includes the Maori Women’s Welfare League, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, National Women’s Refuge, the Wellington Women’s Lawyers Association and the Women’s Health Action Trust. No men’s or fathers' advocacy groups were consulted. Yet a simple search of the Internet would have identified groups that could have been consulted. This is a serious imbalance and could be seen as an example of discrimination.

Our views about the future of the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Commissioner for Children.

It is noted that that although there are differences in role and function, the Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC) is fundamentally concerned with human rights. It also notes that at present their contact with other human rights related agencies is limited (Point 104 of the discussion document).

As an example where closer links between the two agencies would have been useful, the recent Fathers Who Care project undertaken by the OCC considered both children and parents. This included trying to determine whether the Family Court discriminated against fathers. Evidence from a random telephone survey of men and women showed that almost half the men and a third of the women surveyed thought that the Family Court discriminated against men. However, this finding was substantially downplayed in the report.

As such a large percentage of the population expressed concerns about gender bias in a core sector of the state, the Courts, it is likely that this concern would have been taken much more seriously if a human rights focussed organisation had been involved in the research.

We believe that the OCC is currently too small and under-resourced to fully carry out its roles and responsibilities. As an example, there is only a single commissioner for children As noted in the report (point 119) this means decisions and directions depend largely on the personality and interests of the commissioner in office at the time. This has a downside. We feel that better long-term decisions would be made if there were more than one commissioner for children. Issues could then be debated and some consensus reached. If there was more than one commissioner there could also be some gender balance in this role. In the HRC model there is more than one commissioner and this should lead to more balanced decisions being made.

On a simple practical level, increased co-operation between the OCC and the Human Rights Commission would free up considerable resources, allow better work planning, provide better career paths for employees, and provide a wider geographic presence. In recent times the offices have become physically separate. There is therefore no potential for example to share receptionists, other support staff or library resources. In addition, being separate from the HRC means that the OCC has a physical presence only in Wellington, whereas the HRC has additional offices in both Auckland and Christchurch. While we are aware that the OCC wishes to remain as an independent organisation, we feel that this is primarily an adult-centred, and potentially "patch protecting", view and that if full consideration was given to freeing up resources to use for children’s advocacy then a high level of co-operation/sharing of resources would take place between the OCC and HRC.

Ultimately, we do not believe that children’s rights can or should be considered in isolation from parental rights. We support some form of integration of the two offices to provide a "one stop shop". If, in such an organisation, it is considered appropriate to retain specialist positions advocating for children and for women, then we feel it is imperative to also develop specialist positions advocating for men. However, we think it would be more appropriate when addressing family related issues that positions of "family advocates" should be created, whose terms of reference require them to consider the interdependent relationships between family members, their respective rights and responsibilities.


Birks, S. and Callister. P. (eds.) (1999a) Perspectives on Fathering, Issues Paper No.4, Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, Massey University, Palmerston North,

Birks, S. and Callister. P. (eds.) (1999b) Perspectives on Fathering II, Issues Paper No.6, Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, Massey University, Palmerston North,

Breiding-Buss H. (2001) Supporting a team approach in parenting: a new vision for parent support, chapter 10 in Birks S (ed.) (2001) Children's Rights and Families: Proceedings of Social Policy Forum 2000, Issues Paper No.10, Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, Massey University, Palmerston North.

Callister, P. (2000a) Living and Working in New Zealand: Links Between Labour Market Change and household Structure, Wellington: Institute of Policy Studies.

Callister, P. (2000b) Researching fathers in New Zealand – Whose voices are we hearing?, in S. Birks (ed.), Inclusion or exclusion: Family strategy and policy, Issues Paper No.9, Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, Massey University, Palmerston North, pp.37-48,

Hinsliff, G. (2000) Now men are officially the underdogs, UK Observer, December 17.

Julian, R. (1999) Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting – Fathering in the New Millennium, Office of the Commissioner for Children, Wellington.

Rand, D. C. (1997) The spectrum of parental alienation (part 1), American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 15(3): 23-52

Rand, D. C. (1997) The spectrum of parental alienation (part 2), American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 15(4): 39-92.

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