The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
Chapter III. — Care and Treatment of Our Orphans
Care and Treatment of Our Orphans.
There is no doubt of the good and kind treatment received by the children maintained in the orphan homes. But is it wise or right to let them out on hire at so tender an age? In the New Zealand Herald of June, 1889, is a report of a case in which a woman, Mrs. Williams, was charged at the Thames Police Court with unlawfully assaulting a girl about twelve years of age, who was formerly an inmate of the Thames Orphanage, but who in April last was licensed to the defendant for thirteen months. During the last two or three weeks the defendant, it was alleged, had beaten the child in a most brutal manner, inflicting numerous bruises on the arms and body, besides scratching her on the neck with a knife. In consequence of this ill-treatment she ran away from the defendant, and, meeting Constable Bullen, she made known her trouble to him, and he took her to the Hospital for examination by Dr. Williams, who found the child's back literally covered with bruises. Her arms were also badly bruised, whilst the neck was scratched as if with a knife. There were blue marks on the front part of the body, and one about the groin which was apparently caused by a kick or a blow. The defendant denied the accusations altogether. The Bench dismissed the case; but the decision did not find favour with the public.
The same newspaper gives an account of another case which happened at Christchurch in August of the same year. Mr. and Mrs. Abbott were charged with wilfully failing to provide Esther Pond-rich, an orphan girl adopted by them, fourteen years of age, with necessary food, thereby endangering her life. This girl gave all particulars of the brutality, assigning the principal cruelty to Mrs. Abbott, who had dragged her by her hair, held her head under water for a lengthened period, deprived her of food, and otherwise maltreated her during the previous six months. Marks of violence were all over her body, limbs, and head. Mr. and Mrs. Abbott got twelve months' imprisonment each.
Here are two cases of the treatment of our orphans as brought under the notice of the public. How many similar cases are there which never come under its notice? Is it wise, I ask, to let our orphans out at such a tender age, especially when we take into consideration that the law compels parents to send their children to school until they reach the age of fourteen, when numbers of parents would be glad to have their children at some employment to bring in a few shillings so much needed to help to keep a home? Can we not trace the cause, to a great extent, of juvenile crime in this chapter? When our orphans are hired out at such a tender age to such cruel creatures as those just referred to, can one be surprised if they run away? Not likely; or, being afraid to return to the orphanage, they roam about, till at last they fall into the hands page 7 of some unscrupulous wretch, who, under pretence of kindness, takes them to what he chooses to call a home, and trains them, and lives upon their dishonesty and vice; and, if brought before the Justices, in numbers of cases these children are sent for a term to mix with hardened criminals in gaol, where, instead of improving, they grow worse. The Inspector of Prisons, referring to juvenile criminals, in his report of August, 1889, says, "There has been a slight decrease in the number of children under ten years of age confined in the gaols, though it is a matter of regret that there are still twenty-two of that age serving sentences in prisons." It was a source of satisfaction to him that Justices were turning their attention to juvenile crime. It is earnestly hoped that this important subject will receive the serious consideration it deserves. Colonel Hume concludes his report by protesting in strong terms against the present system of dealing with drunkards, which he says is a sham and a delusion, and an expensive and useless cruelty. Referring again to juvenile crime, he says the remedy is to send children to industrial schools at the expense of their parents. I would ask, what better place could you have for drunkards, beggars, and juveniles than a State farm?