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'State-sanctioned child trafficking. There is no other word for it.' - Jean Te Huia

Ngā Maia Māori Midwives Aotearoa president Jean Te Huia believes Oranga Tamariki can't be fixed.

"You can't fix something that's been specifically designed to do what it does," she told the Waitangi Tribunal.

The second week of the Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry (Wai 2915) hearings are underway, and witnesses are presenting evidence before the Waitangi Tribunal in Hastings.

Te Huia said the welfare agency ran "state-sanctioned child trafficking."

"There is no other word for it. Especially when our government doesn't maintain transparency around the data. When they don't share that data with other agencies. When there's a collaboration of agencies who have different types of data. And especially when parents and mothers ask where their children are, and nobody can tell them where they are. We can't have a system that hides that important information about tamariki. We cannot allow that. It can't happen", she said.

'An awakening of us all'

A midwife for nearly 30years, Te Huia initiated the urgent inquiry, and was the midwife at the centre of a case 18 months ago that went viral following a story by Newsroom, in which a six-day-old baby was the subject of an attempted removal in hospital by Oranga Tamariki.

Since then, there have been four reviews of Oranga Tamariki by the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, the Office of the Children's Commissioner, the Chief Ombudsman plus a Hawke's Bay practice review.

"I would like to say it's been enlightening, I think we're learning all the time. There's so many on this journey with me, others before have been trying and pushing this kaupapa. There are those who walk alongside me and there those who are new and have just been awakened to what's happening and I think that's been part of the journey is the learning ... it's a huge kind of awareness, an awakening of us all," Te Huia said.

Welcoming tribunal process

Oranga Tamariki is embracing the inquiry process: "The Waitangi Tribunal urgent inquiry is likely to also make recommendations about improving the system for Māori. We want to hear what these recommendations are, so we can continue to achieve better outcomes for tamariki Māori."

Te Huia was less optimistic. "They haven't changed. We will never get change because the system is designed to do exactly what it's doing. It cannot be fixed because it's not broken. It cannot be changed because it's been designed as it does today to do what it does. When people say, 'oh how can you fix it?', well you can't. You can't fix something that's been specifically designed to do what it does."

Te Huia said it was not only Māori who were harmed by child welfare systems orchestrated by the state because it was something that impacted on indigenous peoples worldwide.

"One of the legacies of state child apprehensions is the fact that it's carried out across the world in indigenous countries. Canada, Australia, America, New Zealand. So we're not alone. As Māori we're not alone. This is a problem that's insidious, hand in hand with colonisation and, while we pretend it's just a Māori problem, it's not," Te Huia said.

Oranga Tamariki said: "We'll continue to work with our partners to ensure whānau, hapū and iwi are involved in decision-making about their tamariki to develop new ways of working together."

The hearings will continue through to Friday.