Admitting the obvious

At last one of the most important reports has been completed, launched and will next come under the scrutiny of Cabinet. 

We are taking about the combined Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (MCIL) – International Labour Organisation (ILO) on child labour.

For those of us at the Samoa Observer and elsewhere, to get to the stage where the existence of child labour is even acknowledged by the ruling Human Rights Protection Party is a major breakthrough.

And while we are cautiously optimistic that the report will generate some real action, it’s concerning that the wording of many of the recommendations are vague and with no specifics about who, what, where, and when the problems will be addressed.

But we are patient people and after all, we have waited this long already.

Some of the recommendations reveal that what many of us thought was being done, is not happening.

For instance, “Supporting free education for all children to access full primary and three years of secondary education in policy and practice.”

Then many of the recommendations are prefaced with the word “supporting” or “improving”.

Not exactly the strong action language we had hoped for. 

This is not the first report that references have been made about child labour.

Others have reported on this problem when examining related issues.

For example the Ombudsman’s Office has highlighted the plight of child vendors in reports on poverty and also in the capacity as the office for Human Rights.

However one does not need to hold an official or governmental position to have eyes to see what has been happening for years on the streets of Apia.

At this newspaper, over the years, many of our readers have tired of our news reports citing individual situations of children as young as toddlers, selling for their families. 

They have also tired of our news stories reporting young people basically working and living on the streets and failing to return to their homes in the evenings.

Editorials on the subject have also failed to alert any acceptance of the problem let alone action in response to the situation.

In our self-professed Christian country, children working instead of attending school, is apparently the kind of news you don’t want to know about, read about or hear about – it’s far too upsetting and after a time, it has no impact anyway and like reports of war, we become numb to its reality.

One individual who was not numb to the reality two years ago, was a 14 year old student at St Mary’s College.

Quenjule Slaven not only noticed those children selling on the street, she talked to them and, troubled that she was able to attend school while they were not, she did something about it.

She set up a school for child vendors for several days a week in the afternoons when her school day was over. Support from her family and friends was crucial and with the blessing of the librarian at the Nelson Memorial Library and the permission of the parents of the child vendors who came to her after selling in the mornings, she took action. 

Her success stories are too numerous to tell but she has made a difference.

We can only hope that the Government with all the manpower, ministries and stakeholders can do equally as well and perhaps even talk to her to learn why and how she has been successful when they haven’t.

One recommendation of the report does stand out like a beacon of light.

“Providing alternative livelihood options for parents and address the broader issue of poverty and youth unemployment which contribute to children beginning work at an early age.”

Can we dare to hope that “alternative livelihood options for parents” means jobs, and “addressing the broader issue of poverty and youth employment” means more than just finally acknowledging that those two situations are real and exist.  

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