3.2.1 Very young parents

A great many studies 1 indicate that births to mothers under the age of 18 are associated with poorer long-term outcomes for those infants. While this factor in and of itself is not necessarily “criminogenic”, it appears to be so strongly when associated with other social disadvantage factors. Arguably, traditional models of Māori family which were not solely focused on the biological parents alone may well have been better able to support young mothers 2. Nevertheless, in contemporary New Zealand society the social circumstances of young mothers tend to feature poor educational attainment, reliance on welfare support, exclusion from paid employment, and disrupted home environments. These in turn contribute to a chain of adversities which can affect the child’s development, resulting in behavioural and learning problems, and ultimately delinquency and crime. Infants born to young mothers are also likely to have low birth weight - itself a risk factor for future disadvantage (see below).

Māori are over-represented in the figures for young motherhood: Table 3 below shows that in each year from 1996 to 2003, the rate of births to young Māori women was at least four times higher than that for non-Māori.

Table 3: Births to mothers under 18 years 1996-2003 by ethnicity (rate)

Year

Number

Ratea

Number

Ratea

Māori

Māori

Non-Māori

Non-Māori

1996 811 48.3 620 9.9
1997 869 52.9 546 8.6
1998 744 46 501 7.9
1999 714 44.3 510 8.0
2000 670 40.3 505 7.9
2001 669 38.7 500 7.7
2002 638 35.3 507 7.7
2003 744 39.4 536 7.9


aPer 1,000 females aged 15-17
Ministry of Social Development (2004) Children and Young People: Indicators of Wellbeing in New Zealand

The interaction between the individual and his or her environment begins well before birth, with the developing foetus significantly affected by the circumstances and lifestyles of the parent(s).

Foetal neurological development can be disrupted during pregnancy through poor nutrition and exposure to toxins (e.g., via maternal smoking or substance abuse). Factors such as these can also result in complications during delivery, which may in turn result in brain injuries. Subsequently, neural development after birth is affected by the degree of nutrition, stimulation, and affection. Children with poor neurological development tend to exhibit difficulties in listening and attention, language, problem solving and memory, problems in organisation of behaviour, and impulsivity.

Although not exclusively associated with young age of mother, low birth weight is associated with adverse outcomes. Similarly as for young motherhood, risk factors associated with low birth weight include low maternal educational status, being a single mother or living with an abusive partner, maternal smoking and/or alcohol use, poor maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy, and lack of pre-natal care.

Māori experience a relatively high percentage of low birth-weight babies 3. In 1999, almost one-third of all low birth-weight infants were Māori, with a rate of 75 per 1,000 live births, compared to 49 for Europeans and “others” 4. In 2001/02 the rate of low birth weight for babies born to Māori mothers had increased slightly (to 79%) while the rate overall was reducing.

In summary, the over-representation of Māori in teenage births, low birth-weight statistics, maternal smoking, and socio-economic deprivation, means that Māori infants are likely to be subject to higher risks of neuro-developmental difficulties.


1 Summaries of such work can be found in Children and Young People: Indicators of Wellbeing in New Zealand (2004) Ministry of Social Development, Wellington. An international summary can be found in the Oxford Handbook of Criminology (1997).

2 A detailed discussion of traditional models, as well as some of processes which have weakened them, can be found at http://www.justice.govt.nz/pubs/reports/2002/guardianship-custody-access-maori/chapter-7b.html

3 Child, Youth & Health Toolkit (2004) Ministry of Health , Wellington (p.56).

4 Children in New Zealand: report on cross-sectoral outcome measures and targets. Ministry of Health 2001, Wellington. http://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/publications/sector-policy/childreninnz.pdf