One more reminder to protect our young girls

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Every parent who has a girl child at school – including in colleges and tertiary education – should read Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Warren’s comments on page 3 of the Samoa Observer yesterday. 

Contained in a story titled “Justice warns of ‘stranger danger’,” Justice Tafaoimalo is asking the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture to encourage the education of students and parents alike about keeping girls safe from strangers. 

Justice Tafaoimalo has a legitimate point. For the uninitiated, allow me to bring you up to speed with this story. The idea that a 10-year-old girl was fooled by a complete stranger who claimed that her mother had sent him to pick her up from school before he took her to a banana patch where she was raped sends shivers down the spine. 

It’s heartbreaking and it is difficult to accept that such a thing could happen here in Samoa, especially to such innocent young lives.

What’s even more disgusting from what we’ve been told is that after he raped her, the man wouldn’t leave until after the frightened girl gave him $5 and a pack of biscuits. 

This has got to be the most stomach turning stories we’ve seen in this country for a while. And while we agree that these incidents are not new and that the rape and sexual abuse of young girls has become ever so prevalent, there is something far more disturbing about this story. 

This was not lost on Justice Tafaomalo when she jailed Isaia Liuafi, of Manono, Leauva’a and Talimatau, for 15 years.

 “This targeted and planned sexual violation of a child is unacceptable,” said Justice Tafaoimalo.

“There is a significant need for deterrence, to deter the offender and to deter other like-minded people from targeting innocent young school aged children who cannot defend themselves and have not yet acquired the maturity to fully comprehend and appreciate risky and/or unsafe situations.”

“There is a need to hold the defendant accountable for the harm done to the victim, to promote in him a sense of responsibility for, and an acknowledgment of that harm, and to provide for the interests of the victim.”

We couldn’t agree more. At 10-years-old, this girl did not deserve what happened to her. Sick people like Liuafi deserve to be put away for what he did.

 “The effects of this offending on the victim will no doubt last a lifetime,” Justice Tafaoimalo pointed out.

“What happened in this case is something that no 10 year old child or any child should have to endure. Childhood is a time of innocence and this defendant has robbed this child of that innocence.”

“The protection of the public, in particular our young children is also an important consideration in today’s sentencing.”

“This is a case of immense public interest for the reason that this victim is a young school girl picked up by a complete stranger after school. This indicates a need for awareness around stranger danger in homes and schools.” 

When this story first surfaced, this column said this should be a wake up call. Not only that it should be a wake up call to all schools about the need to protect these innocent lives, it should also ring the alarm bells for all parents about the need to educate our children on some very basic rules to protect themselves. 

One of them is the obvious one that they should not talk to strangers. Period.

The concern is that we are seeing more and more of these cases emerging, involving such young girls. 

Today we want to repeat that the rape of a 10-year-old girl at St. Therese Lepea should be a timely reminder not just to schools but to all parents about the need to look after their children – especially girls. 

As much as we’d like to think that Samoa is safe, not everyone is the same. And there are some very sick people out there who have absolutely no morals and respect for the rule of law. 

What this actually calls for is tighter controls at schools about drop off and pick up areas. We know the case at Lepea is not the first one and it will not be the last one if we don’t do something about it. 

We will say it again perhaps now it should be made mandatory for parents – and guardians – to sign in at schools when they pick up their children. We have far too many young girls being allowed to leave the school compound without anyone accompanying them. This is a recipe for disaster, not just in terms of sexual crime but also road safety.

The schools and parents should also be enforcing the message to students that they do not talk or interact with strangers at all. This should be one of the first things students should be taught. They should be told that even if they are picked up late, always ensure they stay within the sight of a teacher or a school official.

And lastly, the protection of our children is ultimately the responsibility of parents. It means we need to be more vigilant and pay more attention to pick them up on time. 

No meeting or a catch up with a friend is worth risking the life of your child who is exposed to all sorts of risks when you are late to pick them up. 

Wake up Samoa, let’s do better in keeping our girls safe.

Have a safe Thursday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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