Hardship, desperation, poverty and denial

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Two days ago, Samoa joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Day against Child Labour. 

Driven by the local office of the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) and its partners in Samoa, the occasion was marked with a gathering at Tuana’imato where the work being done so far to address the issue was acknowledged.

Among people acknowledged were two senior reporters from this newspaper, the late Ilia L. Likou, Chief Reporter Joyetter Luamanu and Quenjule Slaven, whose Community Outreach Programme has done wonders to help street vendors in Samoa. 

Without a doubt, it is gratifying to be acknowledged for the work that has been done so far. There are times when it is worth to pause and reflect on what has been achieved so that we can get an idea of how much more we have to do and whether we are making any progress at all.

Which brings us to the question: Are we making any progress at all?

In Samoa today, the truth is staring at us unblinkingly every single day.

More and more young children are ending up on the streets begging and being abused as they hawk those cheap goods to try and make some money for their families. Many of them live a life of desperation and want. They are subjected to all forms of nasty treatment – verbal and physical – while at it too.

These children should not be there. These children – some of them as young as five – should instead be at school, or at home being cared for and looked after. In a normal world, they should be protected from all harm and given the best opportunity to make something positive out of their lives.

That is not happening in Samoa today for many of these street vendors. The mere fact their parents are sending them out, relying on the sympathy of members of the public to either buy or give them a tala or ten, is abuse.

But should we blame the parents then for what is happening today? Are they such mean-spirited people that they wouldn’t care at all about the welfare of their children? Where is the love? And what on earth is going on in Samoa today?

Well we don’t need to look further for an answer than an opinion piece penned by the Pacific Director of I.L.O. Donglin Li, which was published on this newspaper two days ago.

“The root causes of most child labour are linked to poverty and exclusion,” he said. 

Poverty? Now you tell me, is there poverty in Samoa today? If there is, is that not why more and more children are becoming slaves in their own country as their families struggle to keep up with the menacing cost of living? 

Don’t these children’s existence remind us about the reality of progressive Samoa today? Do we not live in a country where the number of high rises are growing while more and more people are turning to begging under those buildings and even on those flash roads? 

Go on; tell me it is not true? Tell me we are only exaggerating? Maybe merely trying to sell newspapers? Tell me, go on?

Now let me tell you something, the truth is out there and we see it every day. For whatever reason, the future of Samoa are heading for a life of more poverty and want because of economic and social problems this country, especially the Government refuses to address. 

Many of us like to paint a flattering picture of the beautiful paradise Samoa is when the truth is that bubbling just beneath the surface is the reality those leaders don’t want to know. It has everything to do with desperation, hardship, poverty and the worst one of them all is denial. Many of us like to pretend everything is okay when it is clearly not. 

Look again in the mirror Samoa.

It’s not just the Government that’s getting into ridiculous debt. Talk to the average Samoan worker and you’ll find that they too are up to their neck with debt. They are making loans, to pay off loans to look for new loans. 

Is this relevant to what we are talking about today? Absolutely. When people are desperate, they will not know where to stop until they find that they have gone so far in they are stuck.

In Samoa today, people are stuck in rut called hardship and poverty. It might not be that of food but the signs are obvious to see. Those children on the streets wouldn’t have been there if their families did not see the need. 

What’s the solution? There are a few things we can do.

Instead of the Government wasting money on useless projects, exotic trips to far ends of the world paid for by taxpayers, corruption, abuse of monies and resources and a very expensive public service, imagine if all those millions were allocated to some of these very poor families so they can make something good for themselves? 

Away from that, we’ll leave you with an extract from Mr. Li’s opinion piece. 

“Children are the hope of our future,” he writes. “Let us all play our part to make our children labour free and a place where every child has a chance to go to school and be educated, so that they can achieve their full potential in decent work, when they come of age.”  

“Childhood is a time to grow. At this tender age, the body is developing and requires proper nutrition and exercise to grow. This is necessary to become productive adults. We need to ensure that every child has a full childhood and not one burdened by adult activities, such as employment and taking care of the family.  Children must enjoy their childhood.”

Everyone has a responsibility to ensure this happens. It starts from the very top when the Government begins to acknowledge that we’ve got a serious problem on our hands. Then everyone including the villages, churches and individual families should do their part.

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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