Children are the group most at risk of having their rights violated in Cook Islands, an international watchdog says.
The Human Rights Measurement Initiative, which tracks the human rights performance for more than 200 countries, says children are more vulnerable to violence here than in most other Pacific countries.
Other vulnerable groups include LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and women.
Rebeka Buchanan is the coordinator of the Punanga Tauturu counselling group, working to protect women and children. She confirmed the report’s findings.
Policies to reduce violence were not effectively implemented, she said.
“We are aware of violence against these group of people and we are also aware there might be cases where such violence is not reported.
“We need to raise awareness to ensure people from these vulnerable groups know their rights.”
Internal Affairs Minister Vaine Mokoroa agreed not all cases were reported to police, especially violence against children, the disabled and the elderly.
“I do agree that the picture is painting a grim reflection of how unsafe or less safe are these groups in the Cook Islands especially the data on our children.
Mokoroa urged caution around reading too much into the data.
“But straightaway, one can see that this graph is saying that the Cook Islands children are more highly prone to be abused and or assaulted, whether minor, grievous or fatal – this is what this picture is painting for us,” Mokoroa said.
“Even persons with disabilities as well as women and/or girls are also shown to be less safe as well.”
Danny Tixier, manager of the Creative Centre, said people with disability were more likely to be subjected to physical and other abuse.
“I think people with disability are the most vulnerable group because first they cannot defend themselves, secondly they don’t have the intellect to know what is going wrong, and thirdly they may be physically unable to stop the harm and such abuses to them,” Tixier said.
He said there was not enough support for people from these vulnerable groups to report such matters and seek refuge.
According to the statistics, the LGBTQI community is less vulnerable to violence in the Cook Islands.
But Te Tiare Association’s Valentino Wichman says violence against their community is always a concern for them as it should be for the rest of the nation.
“Anecdotally I agree with the report (statistics). However it will be good to get the latest official data on domestic violence rates in the country for our community to verify the reports results,” Wichman said.
“Te Tiare has always talked about respecting each other and being kind and loving. We do not condone domestic violence in any way or form.”
Minister Mokoroa said there are several factors that could be the contributing to these scores complied by Human Rights Measurement Initiative. “Perhaps culture would be one of those. Our social-economic status could also be a contributing factor.
“Our country is highly recognised as having a strong Christian base faith. The question then arises whether our Christian learning has some bearing on promoting a peaceful, happy family within the community”.