Prison escapees and the increasing incidences of missing children

By Alexander Rheeney 21 February 2019, 12:00AM

Two days ago the Ministry of Police advised the public, in a post on their Facebook page, of two 15-year-old girls who had gone missing.

The missing girls Viola Suliveta and Tapaau Panapa – who are both 15 years of age and attend Vaimauga College – were last seen in class last Wednesday and were yet to return home when the Police made the appeal.

The college administration has also reported that the two students didn’t turn up for classes after last Wednesday, their day in school last Wednesday was the last time they were seen.

The disappearance of the two girls last Wednesday came a week after an eight-year-old boy – Judah Philip Tualagi of Vaiusu, Togafu’afu’a, Faleatiu and Toomatagi – was reported missing by the Police and discovered a day later and reunited with his family.

Since the Facebook post was made 5.30pm on Wednesday afternoon by the Police, it has been shared 175 times and attracted 43 comments. Looking at the number of shares that this particular post has attracted on Facebook, we can only assume that the appeal has gone far and wide throughout the country.

There is no doubt that the girls’ parents would be concerned – as they continue to count the days as they go by – and look out their window for any signs of their daughters. They have every right to be concerned about their children, especially with prison escapees Pati Chong Nee and Aniseko Vaelei still on the loose. 

It is reprehensible that the two convicted criminals – who were both serving time for burglary and theft before dashing for freedom – are still on the run from the authorities after close to five weeks.  

While we hope that the capture of the two prison escapees should remain a top priority for the law enforcement agencies, we also note the increasing incidences of children going missing in Samoa. 

Based on our own monitoring of the stories that we have run on cases of missing children – which at most times emanate from the Ministry of Police – we can safely conclude based on our own reportage of the issue that there is a child in Samoa going missing every 2-3 months.

The Ministry of Police will be in a better position to give statistics on this particular issue to confirm this. Nevertheless, it is a worrying development, which law enforcement agencies should address in consultation with parents, the community and schools as well as the relevant agencies and ministries of Government.

Let us hope and pray that Viola Suliveta and Tapaau Panapa – like eight-year-old Judah Philip Tualagi of Vaiusu, Togafu’afu’a, Faleatiu and Toomatagi – will be found soon and reunited with their families. 

But we should not and cannot drop our guard to ensure our children are safe, following revelations at a recently concluded seminar on tackling human trafficking and people smuggling in the Pacific Islands, which was convened in Apia and hosted by the Pacific Immigration Development Community (PIDC) Secretariat.

There was consensus at the regional summit that the Pacific is experiencing an increase in human trafficking cases, and leaders in the region as well as international organisations need to address it.

Head of the PIDC Secretariat, Maumalo Ioane Alama, said human trafficking is a transnational crime issue that is being recorded as increasing in the region.

“We’ve seen quite a lot of discussion around the exploitation of fishermen, so we’ve also discussed a number of cases of sexual exploitation. Also potential sex crimes against children in remote areas and had number of cases reported from across the Pacific. 

But that’s definitely something we are looking at trying to develop some proper response, and how to manage the threat at the border and make sure we can support police in undertaking their investigations,” Maumalo told media, who were invited to cover the seminar.

With the increasing incidences of children reported missing in Samoa in recent months, there is a danger of members of the public ignoring the warning signs, and assuming that the child ran off to stay with a relative. Looking at recent comments by the public to the Facebook post by the Police, you can already see people downplaying the issue.

With the 2019 academic year only into its third week, now is the time for the Ministry of Police to work in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC), to lead awareness and advocacy programs targeting Samoan schools and colleges. Having a Police Officer doing a presentation in a classroom on the dangers of wandering off after school without notifying parents and guardians and its link to human trafficking, drug use and violence – should be food for thought for the youngsters as well as their teachers in their schools and colleges. Even parents should be invited to attend the program. 

The increasing incidences of missing children in Samoa should not always be taken for granted. Let’s be proactive and address it through awareness and advocacy within the schools and colleges, before these incidences become fatalities. 

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless. 

By Alexander Rheeney 21 February 2019, 12:00AM

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