Members of Parliament have been urged to address the issue of child labour among other challenges to protect and promote human rights in Samoa.
The call comes from the Ombudsman and Commissioner of Human Rights, Maiava Iulai Toma, who was one of several guest speakers during a Parliament symposium held at Tuanaimato media center on Thursday.
The symposium was guided by the theme “Samoa: 53 years and 16 Parliaments on – Leadership, Governance & the Rule of Law”.
Maiava highlighted some of the issues and recommendations from the 2015 State of Human Rights Report. One of them is child labour.
“Common issue survey participants identified that needs to be addressed is children as street vendors,” he said.
“Many children themselves indicated that one of the things they would like to see changed in Samoa is kids selling goods at the market. Despite these strong measures to combat this form of child labour, enforcement is weak and children are still seen engaging in street vending during school hours.”
The Ombudsman said the issue here was to unpack why child street vending is still a challenge despite the regulatory efforts to prevent it.
“Child labour is largely driven by vulnerabilities caused by economic vulnerabilities and deprivation,” he explained.
“The N.H.R.I (National Human Rights Institution) recognises the potential of education to break intergenerational cycles that hold people down. Unless families are empowered to choose education over exploitative labour, this issue will continue to be a challenge.”
In every problem there is always a solution.
A recommendation that Maiava challenged M.Ps to take onboard is for government, communities and families must address barriers to education through the recognition of a collective responsibility for the welfare of children.
By doing this government needs to ensure that S.S.F.G.S (Secondary School Fee Grant Scheme) is continued and sustainable, extended through year 13 and to consider increasing public expenditure one education in general.
Maiava also pointed to communities particularly ‘attendance officers’ need to take a more active role in preventing child street vending.
He added families have to prioritise the education of their children.
Another issue that the Ombudsman stressed is the rights of a child and “correcting the misunderstanding about the rights of a child”.
“Consultation indicated widespread misconceptions about the implications of human rights for Samoa’s children,” explained Maiava.
These factors are commonly raised concern in focus group discussions was that human rights give children the freedom to misbehave and disobey their parents.
Secondly, traditional status of a Samoan child within the family is that the child must obey and do as she/he is told by their parents without further discussion.
Lastly, children themselves have misunderstood what their rights are, which further adds to the concerns raised by parents.
Maiava suggested to dispel the misconception about the rights of the child for both parents and children through community education campaigns and programmes led by the N.H.R.I in collaboration with Ministry of Women, Education and relevant N.G.Os.
The Ombudsman also touched on the rights of people with disabilities.
He said in order for people with disabilities to participate fully in all aspect of life, the government must take appropriate measures to facilitate all forms of access on an equal basis with others.
These forms range from environment to transportation, information and communication to other facilities and services open or provided to the public both in urban and rural areas.
Maiava made it clear that the importance of protecting and promoting human rights does not rest solely with his office.
“As parliamentarians you make laws, as lawmakers and as elected representatives you can play a key role in upholding the rule of law by ensuring that domestic legislation is compatible with constitution and international human rights obligations.
“It is up to you as parliamentarians to introduce, debate and ultimately pass legislation with respect to Samoa’s aforementioned human rights obligations…not all legislation that is passed by this parliament will involve actively protecting human rights.”
However, Maiava believes that it is also just as important that the parliament ensures that all the legislation which is introduced and passed is not ever in contravention of the obligation contained within human rights treaties that Samoa has become a signatory to.
“It is crucial as Members of Parliament that you are aware of these obligations and I have instructed the Office of the Ombudsman and the N.H.R.I to look for ways in which we can work with the Office of the Speaker to hold information sessions to assist members of parliament in understanding these important international obligations.”