With the streets of Apia lighting up with twinkling lights; people often callously pass-by children selling goods on the street as if they’re invisible.
Yesterday, Samoa Observer caught up with some of young boys in the hottest part of the day, trampling the hot sidewalk in just their bare calloused feet.
They have become so accustomed to being ignored, that they were taken aback when approached by the Samoa Observer.
Only one was willing to open up. He gave his name as Suliveta, an eleven-year-old boy who is a familiar fixture on the streets of Apia, as he is a child vendor.
Although he was timid at first, Suliveta’s eyes lit up and had a wide grin as he recounted his big plans in store for Christmas. This young eleven year old and another child vendor will be travelling to Savai’i to spend Christmas with other child vendors on the Big Island.
Asked if he was going to spend time with his family, he said no, just his friends. Child vendors in the streets of Apia have forged a network that surpasses familial ties. As they are subject to all kinds of abuse, it is apparent that the older child vendors are now looking after the younger ones.
This social issue has become so alarming that it has prompted local business owners into action since the children often frequent their stores and anxiously wait for customers to enter and exit the shop.
One outstanding advocate, who is fearlessly tackling the social issue head on is, Moe Lei Sam of Moe Lei Sam Variety Shop in Apia.
Mrs. Lei Sam has witnessed first-hand the struggles of these child vendors as they visit her shop every day. As a mother herself, she is heartbroken and disgruntled that parents of these children would subject their children to a life of servitude and deprive them of an education.
Not only are these kids risking their own safety by being out at all hours of the night, but also pose a threat to public health. Mrs. Lei Sam recalled a recent incident where a child vendor was walking around selling while having chicken pox.
She stated, “Sometime this week, either Friday or Saturday, a young girl had chicken pox and she was selling stuff on the street. I want to get the mother and hit her on the face, excuse my language. I was so angry because she pushed this little girl on the street and yet she has chicken pox. I was angry and frustrated, how can a mother do this? “
But Mrs. Lei Sam has a solution. She told the Samoa Observer,“We’re looking for someone who can help the mothers to stop this madness. We have to do something like, talk to the mother. Let her sell her stuff and let the kids go to school because they don’t even go to school. I already told the Police Department and the Police Department came and picked them up and warned them that the fine will be $1,000 tala if they’re caught again.”
If no organization is willing to step in for these kids, Mrs. Lei Sam looks to churches for assistance.
She stated, “The next option is the ministers, pastors and churches. What’s the point of talking about Jesus this and Jesus that. Very Christian Country. This is their job to help these young kids because they’re not older people, they’re young ones. Anyway, we’re looking for an association to help these young mothers.
“Last Sunday, our pastor praised the kids with awards and scholarships. And yet, last week, the kids from Apia village had a fight and they were throwing rocks and all that stuff. Now, they only praise the kids with brains, but what about the unfortunate kids. They are the ones who need help and need support.”
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Thus, Mrs. Lei Sam is adamant that it is everyone’s duty to advocate on behalf of the less fortunate who have been subjected to a life of begging.
“It’s not only the government or polices’ job. Its everyone’s job. It breaks my heart to see these children everyday. They’re already outside (of her shop) and they’re cold. I said, “come inside the shop, keep yourself warm,”
“There’s no kindness, there’s no love. Like people say, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”