After receiving a complaint, police visited a home in Arorangi where three children had been left unsupervised and alone for a long period of time.
One of the children, aged five had walked onto the road, while his two younger siblings, ages three and one were inside the house asleep.
When they arrived at the home, police found the child in the care of the complainant, at a shop in Arorangi.
“The children were kept safe until one of the parents returned home late that night,” a police spokesman said.
Inspector John Strickland told CI News that the mother of three had returned home in the early hours of the morning, heavily intoxicated.
The complaint was lodged at 10:29pm and the mother returned to the house at 1:44am, prompting the realisation that had a local not informed the police, the children may have been left unsupervised and alone for over three hours.
Strickland says children being left home alone isn’t a frequently-occurring problem in the Cook Islands, but Punanga Tauturu Inc manager Nga Teinangaro, has a different perspective.
“Leaving children home alone is becoming a common issue in the Cook Islands.”
Teinangaro said many parents did not realise that by leaving their child or children at home, they were neglecting them.
“Things are changing and crime is becoming more prominent; sexual molestation, rape, and domestic violence has increased. It (crime), has always been there but it has been massively brought to light in recent times.
“Parents are unaware that by leaving their children unsupervised, they are putting them at risk and in harm’s way.”
Rebeka Buchanan of Punanga Tauturu Inc said children could be a hazard to themselves if left alone.
“There are plenty of opportunities for children to put themselves in dangerous situations, for example playing with matches, or in this case, wandering on to the road.”
Teinangaro said there were common issues that sometimes led parents to “unintentionally” neglect their children.
In some instances, financial burdens meant parents worked more than one job, and conflicting work schedules could mean children were left unsupervised for long periods of time.
Teinangaro said that although they understood times could be tough, especially given the difficulties caused by the Cook Islands economy, parents’ responsibilities were “24/7”.
“Just because you feel we (people on Rarotonga) live in a safe environment, compared to other parts of the world, doesn’t give parents the ability or excuse to slack off.
“Anything could happen in that hour or two your child is left alone. We hear of those horrific cases of child assault or sexual assault, and just because you think it isn’t common here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
“Leaving your child unsupervised while you go drinking, or whatever else, increases the chance of that victim being your child.”
Strickland and Teinangaro agreed that despite the relaxed atmosphere on Rarotonga, there is no excuse for parents to ignore their duties.
“As parents, it is your responsibility to look after your children.
“Failing your responsibility will only lead to consequences. We do have laws in place,” Strickland said.
Both the Cook Islands Police and Punanga Tauturu Inc urge parents to remember that when children are left home alone, a lot can happen in a short period of time.
“Children are one of the most vulnerable aspects of our community, we should be nurturing them, not neglecting them,”Teinangaro said.
At the Easter weekend incident, details were obtained by attending officers and police say investigations into the matter are continuing.