More than 500 primary school children have been arrested in the past five years - many of them caught stealing or fleeing from police.
New statistics released to the Herald reveal more than 23,000 children aged under 15 were arrested between 2014 and 2018. Of those, 555 were under 12 years old.
As of June this year a further 1445 children, 39 under 12, have been added to the grim statistics, the NZ Herald reports.
Senior Sergeant Simon King says the children were being picked up for incidents such as graffiti, violence or stealing, but also in situations where the children were unsafe or on the streets.
There were many factors but poverty was the major driver, King says
"During an initiative with youth involved in police pursuits some said they would take cars because they had no means of transport, and were hungry and needed to get food.”
However Blue Light chief executive Rod Bell told Mike Hosking the stats show the number of children arrested is reducing.
"We want to keep seeing it reduced, keep seeing it come down, and keep seeing kids more active and occupied so crime is not something they are looking to do."
Of the 72 arrested last year alone, 60 per cent were Maori.
New Zealand Māori Principals' Association president Myles Ferris says those children are in very troubled situations.
"They're rebelling or they are fighting back or they are just trying to say 'things aren't happy in my world', and it's so easy to blame parents, but for a lot of these young people, their parents went through exactly the same thing."
He says all of those children have most likely been traumatised at some time in their lives.
"They're doing things to survive. They are doing things to say 'I'm unhappy, I'm not in a good place, you need to look at me and you need to see my pain."