Dr Claire Achmad hopes to improve outcomes for Pacific children and youth as the chief children's commissioner.
Mana Mokopuna website
Dr Claire Achmad says what they want to focus on in the next five years, and why lowering the voting age could have more of an impact for Pacific peoples.
The new Chief Children’s Commissioner wants to amplify positive qualities already shown by Pacific children and youth, while working towards equitable outcomes.
Dr Claire Achmad is in her second day as Chief Children's Commissioner, leading Mana Mokopuna - the Children and Young People's Commission, which she says is a great responsibility.
“Young people have incredible ideas and are wise about the big issues facing us as a country and as a world.
“I’m excited to hear from tamariki and rangatahi about the issues that matter to them. I’ll be listening to them deeply, and to their whānau, hapū, iwi and the communities and groups wrapped around them, to ensure their experiences, ideas and aspirations inform our advocacy.”
Dr Achmad’s experience includes a doctorate in international children’s rights law, and has worked for youth-focused organisations like Barnardos, Unicef and World Vision. During her five year term, she wants to get alongside Pacific communities.
“When I’ve had the chance to speak with Pacific children and their aiga, what I see is incredible strength and incredible focus on leadership. If we think about some of our young Pacific leaders and what they are doing, they are deeply inspiring to me.”
Dr Achmad lists the work of the Pacific Climate Warriors, Pacific and Māori rights advocacy group 4TK, and how Pacific youth were pivotal in the Covid-19 vaccine uptake among other examples.
“I think about a medical student I read about the other day who is researching the effects of rheumatic fever on Pacific [people] in the South Island, simply because that research doesn’t exist. So I want to lead with focusing on what those strengths are, and getting alongside and amplifying those.”
Speaking to Levi Matautia-Morgan on 531pi’s Pacific Mornings, Dr Achmad says there are challenges and big issues that need to be addressed.
“Cost of living, housing, health, inclusion and education and actually getting to a place here in Aotearoa New Zealand where we truly stand in and take g our place as a Pacific nation of Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, recognising those deep and rich connections that Pasifika youth have.”
This comes as preventable hospitalisations for Pacific children aged 0-4 have increased 45 percent in the past year.
A potential political gamechanger
Mana Mokopuna replaced the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in July, and represents the human rights of children and youth from birth to the age of 25. Dr Achmad says although the government is still being formed, many political decisions have long-term impacts for children and youth.
“We have around 1.2 million mokopuna in Aotearoa New Zealand - they didn’t get to vote, but a lot of the decisions that are made every day by government and those in power actually affect children directly in their lives.”
Dr Achmad says they support lowering the voting age to 16, and believes this will have a greater impact for Pacific communities, due to being a younger population.
“Our Pacific population in Aotearoa New Zealand is actually the most youthful of our populations here, with a median age of 23 years, that’s really young.
“So if we are able to lower that voting age, for Pacific youth in particular, it’s going to have a big effect on equity and ensure that they’re truly able to have a say at that civic and democratic level in the things that affect their everyday lives.”