Jacinda Ardern New Zealand PM
CNN
Jacinda Ardern New Zealand PM
Now playing
01:12
New Zealand PM on gun laws: I don't understand the US
View of the construction site of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Taishan city, south China's Guangdong province, 12 September 2012.
Zhou huadong/Imaginechina/AP
View of the construction site of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Taishan city, south China's Guangdong province, 12 September 2012.
Now playing
03:30
Concerns over possible leak at nuclear plant in southern China
screengrab japan lonely death
CNN
screengrab japan lonely death
Now playing
04:04
Inside Japan's growing 'lonely death' clean-up service
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. - A delicate eight-party alliance united by animosity for Netanyahu is poised to take over with right-wing Naftali Bennett as prime minister, if the coalition deal passes today's slated parliamentary vote. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. - A delicate eight-party alliance united by animosity for Netanyahu is poised to take over with right-wing Naftali Bennett as prime minister, if the coalition deal passes today's slated parliamentary vote. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
Former ally replaces Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister
CCTV via AFP
Now playing
01:54
Video of explosion aftermath in China shows a harrowing picture
Employees prepare the National Stadium for the Copa America soccer tournament in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, June 11, 2021. The stadium will host the opening game on June 13. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Eraldo Peres/AP
Employees prepare the National Stadium for the Copa America soccer tournament in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, June 11, 2021. The stadium will host the opening game on June 13. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Now playing
02:26
Bolsonaro's boast to host Copa América despite Covid-19 pandemic
CNN
Now playing
01:35
Boris Johnson asked if he agrees that Putin is a 'killer'
TOPSHOT - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) attempts to cut a cake with a sword, lent to her by The Lord-Lieutenant of Cornwall, Edward Bolitho, to celebrate of The Big Lunch initiative at The Eden Project, near St Austell in south west England on June 11, 2021. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / POOL / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Oli Scarff/AFP/Pool/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) attempts to cut a cake with a sword, lent to her by The Lord-Lieutenant of Cornwall, Edward Bolitho, to celebrate of The Big Lunch initiative at The Eden Project, near St Austell in south west England on June 11, 2021. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / POOL / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
00:54
Watch the Queen cut a cake with a sword
Vladimir Putin NBC intv
NBC
Vladimir Putin NBC intv
Now playing
04:22
Hear how Putin compared Donald Trump to Joe Biden
cctv
Now playing
01:02
Never-before-seen Great Wall fort discovered
peskov
CNN
peskov
Now playing
02:34
Kremlin spokesman speaks on state of US-Russia relations
Now playing
04:00
At least 7 Nicaraguan opposition leaders detained ahead of election
US President Joe Biden, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sit around the table at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021.
LEON NEAL/AFP/POOL/Getty Images
US President Joe Biden, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sit around the table at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021.
Now playing
01:27
What is the G7?
screengrab china elephants
CCTV
screengrab china elephants
Now playing
03:06
Elephant migration may reveal serious problem for China
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) speaks with US President Joe Biden while they walk at Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 10, 2021, ahead of the three-day G7 summit being held from 11-13 June. - G7 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States meet this weekend for the first time in nearly two years, for the three-day talks in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. - (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
TOBY MELVILLE/AFP/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) speaks with US President Joe Biden while they walk at Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 10, 2021, ahead of the three-day G7 summit being held from 11-13 June. - G7 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States meet this weekend for the first time in nearly two years, for the three-day talks in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. - (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:58
See Boris Johnson's reaction to Biden's joke about their wives
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and US First Lady Jill Biden visit Connor Downs Academy in Hayle, Cornwall on the sidelines of the G7 summit on June 11, 2021. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / various sources / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and US First Lady Jill Biden visit Connor Downs Academy in Hayle, Cornwall on the sidelines of the G7 summit on June 11, 2021. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / various sources / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:26
See Jill Biden and the Duchess of Cambridge host school roundtable
CNN —  

New Zealand’s government watchdog will investigate the practice of authorities seizing newborn babies from their mothers – including some when they are still in hospital.

Taking infants into state care – known as “uplifting” – has been making headlines in the country since last week when an investigation by local media outlet Newsroom showed authorities attempting to take a seven-day-old baby from its 19-year-old mother – who was of Maori heritage – while she was still in the maternity ward in Hawke’s Bay Hospital, on New Zealand’s east coast.

On Wednesday, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier announced a wide-ranging, independent investigation into the Ministry for Children’s uplifting process, making it the third inquiry to be announced since the story hit headlines.

Last year, judges ordered 281 babies to be taken into care and 71% were of Maori or Pacific Island heritage, the government said in a statement.

In New Zealand’s most recent census in 2013, 14.9% of the then population of 4.2 million people identified as Maori, while 7.4% identified as of Pacific Island heritage.

Some have raised concerns that Maori and Pacific Island babies are disproportionately affected by “uplifts” due to institutional racism. Over 15,000 people have signed an open letter online urging the government to “stop stealing Maori children.”

“No one is more vulnerable than a newborn baby,” Boshier said. “I think the public needs assurance that the right policies and processes are in place for their protection while at the same time safeguarding the rights of (family).”

High rates of child abuse

New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child abuse in the developed world. According to Unicef, the children’s ministry receives over 150,000 reports of concern relating to the country’s 1.1 million children each year.

The country has been trying to tackle its high child abuse rates. In 2017, the government created Oranga Tamariki – or the Ministry of Children after finding that the system under the former ministry, was “ineffective” and had poor long-term outcomes for children in care.

However, the newly-formed Oranga Tamariki has also come under fire. In March, it announced that in the second half of 2018, there were over 300 instances of neglect, emotional, sexual or physical abuse of children in its care.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media on May 30, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media on May 30, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand.

In a statement to CNN Wednesday, Oranga Tamariki’s chief social worker Grant Bennett said the decision to remove children from their mothers was a “last resort action” which required a judge to make a custody order. Under New Zealand law, a parent who has already had a child removed from their care must have a mandatory assessment of whether they are likely to harm their second child.

“The physical and emotional state of children taken into our care would often shock and sadden most New Zealanders,” he said, adding that some children were exposed to family violence, drugs being sold from the home they lived in, parental drug and alcohol abuse, sexual and physical abuse and chronic neglect.

“Every situation we deal with is complex, but it only takes a moment to harm a baby,” he said. “Ultimately we all want the same thing, for all babies to be in the safe, stable and loving care of their parents and (family).”

Oranga Tamariki is conducting an internal investigation into the Hawke’s Bay case. The Children’s Commissioner – who has oversight over Oranga Tamariki – is also reviewing the ministry’s policies around the care and protection of Maori newborns.

In a statement, Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said that the mother-child relationship was denied to too many Maori children.

“It’s been increasingly clear over recent days and weeks that the community as a whole is profoundly uneasy with the way our current care and protection of (Maori children) is carried out,” he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – who last year announced a royal commission of inquiry into children abused in state care – told TVNZ Tuesday that New Zealand had two problems: too many children in state care and high rates of child abuse.

But she stood by Oranga Tamariki, saying it was on the right track.