The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has once again highlighted in its 5 yearly report that New Zealand is failing to protect its children from harm. “The UN report is a sad indictment on the number of neglected, abused and sick children in this country and it is not a story that New Zealanders can be proud of,” says Rebecca Williams, a spokesperson for the Alcohol Healthwatch Trust, a public health organisation. “Too many of these children are the silent victims of alcohol abuse and we are joining the call for the Government to act.”

Included in this year’s UN report is concern over the high levels of alcohol abuse by adolescents. According to Alcohol Healthwatch, the numbers of young people who are drinking themselves into hospitals, police cells, unplanned sexual encounters and unwanted pregnancies, are too high. Over 35% of injuries in the emergency department at Auckland Hospital are the direct result of alcohol, the majority affecting young men (Casswell and Humphreys 2003). When the legal purchase age for alcohol dropped from 20 to 18 years, the same emergency department reported a dramatic rise in the number of drunk teenagers needing treatment (Everitt and Jones 2000). This year, the first health study of secondary school students revealed that 27% of teenagers had ridden in a car driven by a potentially drunk drive in the previous month (University of Auckland, National Secondary School Health Survey, 2000). Cars filled with drinking teenagers on school holidays, that end up in horrific crashes and loss of life, is testament to the fact this can have tragic results.

Ms Williams says that the stakes for adolescent drinking can be too high. “With so many families facing trauma and tragedy every week it almost feels obscene to talk about money, but how much is this preventable harm costing New Zealand? The cost to families is simply immeasurable,” she says.

Throughout the UN document is the enduring theme of a lack of comprehensive prevention measures. This includes insufficient policy, insufficient funding and a lack of coordination and integration of services. Last month Alcohol Healthwatch launched the Action on Liquor Legislation Campaign which among other things calls for a comprehensive integrated approach to alcohol-related harm prevention. The campaign asks the Government to act boldly to turn the tide on the unacceptable level of alcohol-related harm in New Zealand. The campaign focus is on strengthening the areas of policy and legislation where there is proven effectiveness for harm reduction, particularly for young people, and to create a more supportive environment for agencies working to prevent harm.

Alcohol Healthwatch believes the campaign strategies would go a long way towards protecting children. “Solving issues of alcohol abuse is not a simple matter and not the sole responsibility of Government but it is the legislators and policy makers that set the all important benchmarks,” says Ms Williams. “We are asking the Government to send a strong message that alcohol-related harm for our children and young people is unacceptable and that comprehensive action is forthcoming.”

If you would like further information regarding this media statement please contact Rebecca Williams at Alcohol Healthwatch 09 520 7035 or email