This applies readily to Qantas – it is a private company. Air NZ while publicly listed, is majority state owned – and questions can be raised as to whether it should ever act in a way offensive to its shareholders (i.e. N.Z. residents). Well, as it is a commercial investment (and the government cannot intervene in the decisions of the board or management on such matters), it should act according to its commercial interests and it appears to be doing so. If Air NZ revoked this policy, it would probably lose some business to Qantas for unaccompanied children – but would be unlikely to gain business from men. Very few men would say they wont fly on an airline because there is no chance of sitting beside a child – except those you might not want to! The airlines are reacting to consumers.
However, this doesn't mean I like the policy.
There has been a concerted picture painted of men in the last 25 years as being potential rapists and child molesters – and the statistics bear out the fact that most cases of child sexual abuse involve men - but also that most cases involve men in the same household as the child. So we are talking about a very tiny risk. The implications of this policy are that there is a social trend to fear men having contact with children. This is not because child abuse has increased, there is little evidence of that as children have been getting abused throughout history, and it is only in the last 20 years that the complaints of children have been listened to and given credence in court (although in some cases, the evidence gatherers have manipulated children to giving them the answers that they wanted, rather than the facts).
So parents and caregivers (funnily enough, the categories most likely to abuse) are terrified of the man next door, the teacher, the coach, the priest, Uncle X and now the man on the plane. What is next? The man on the bus? Will men be not permitted to be located next to children in any cases without another adult present? What does this do for men who like working with children (it is sad that this is always a lead up for a joke that says “not THAT way”)?
As I grew up, I encountered adult men as Santa Claus, customers of my parents’ shop, relatives, neighbours, people on holiday, and only in a very few cases did my parents warn me of one or two. Despite the popular myth, in most cases dodgy pedophilic men are easy to identify – and half of the answer is not to wrap children in cotton wool, but to encourage them to look after themselves. If someone (man or woman – women do this too, in small numbers, but those that do almost always get away with it because nobody believes it happens) does anything that makes a child feel uncomfortable, they should stop – tell them no and that they will tell someone, or hit them. Far better for a child to know how to respond to this, especially girls who are a greater risk of having creeps hitting on them in their teens than boys are.
One of the other myths is to ignore teenage boys. Teenage boys engage in far more sexual contact with children than men do, because they have more access, have almost nothing else on their minds and are trusted. Something around a third of all those getting treated for being sexual abusers are teenagers – so fear them too.