Child sex crimes in Samoa 'disturbing': U.N .

The case of a father on parole for raping his eldest daughter who went onto rape his youngest demands an “honest reflection” on sexual crimes against Samoa's children, the local U.N. head has said.

The U.N.’s Resident Coordinator, Ms. Simona Marinescu, says the reality of sexual crimes against children in Samoa is profoundly concerning.

On Friday,  the Samoa Observer reported on shocking revelations that Rokesi Ioelu had  been sentenced to 20 years in prison, having pleaded guilty to three counts of rape against his 13-year-old daughter, crimes committed while on parole for raping his eldest daughter in 2013.

Ms. Marinescu said she is preparing a review of Samoa’s child protection legislation, ahead of a land-mark child rights meeting being held in Samoa in March.

When the Convention on the Rights of the Child (C.R.C.) Committee meets in Apia, Ms. Marinescu said she hopes there will be an honest conversation about the reality in Samoa for too many children and women.

“We are disturbed, honestly, by the reality of some of the places in this country and the reality of some of the children in this country, we are profoundly, profoundly concerned that such things continue to happen,” she said.

“It’s a human rights issue the U.N. doesn’t take easily, as you can imagine. We are in place to ensure that all rights are being respected and guaranteed, with a focus on the most at risk and those who are defenceless. 

“Innocent people and those who for whatever reason cannot defend themselves are at the heart of our human rights agenda.”

Ms. Marinescu said that while Samoa has proven it is committed to the U.N values and instruments, it is still lacking services and systems that protect children from potential and known harm.

“It’s a matter of ensuring that there are services and systems in place that will isolate the perpetrator for potential victims and ensure services protect the best interests of the child.”

This week, work begins in earnest on the Spotlight Initiative, a European Union and U.N €50 million (T$148.7 million) region-wide project intended to rid the Pacific of domestic violence. 

Ms. Marinescu said Monday will see the implementing agencies gather to take stock, review what policies and legislation are or are not in place, and “take it from there".

“The Spotlight has at its heart ending violence against children, and violence means all sorts of abuses children are exposed to.”

One piece of urgent legislation is the Child Care and Protection Bill, which Samoa has been working on since 2009 when the Samoa Law Reform Commission launched the Child Projection project.

Its draft includes legislation against children being used as street vendors and changing the legal age for girls to be married to 18. 

The C.R.C., which Samoa ratified in 1994, is the guiding document in building and eventually passing the bill.

In 2018, Samoa’s legislative compliance was just 18 per cent, a figure the Ministry of Women, Community and Social development acknowledged was “very low.”

Ms. Marinescu said Samoa has made great development strides and is proving to be committed to the agenda of ending violence against children.

“The judiciary is very strong, they are doing their job. The Government is doing its job, and the Legislative Assembly is doing its job, the problem is that the system is still missing a few links. 

“A perpetrator getting out on parole cannot be left alone with potential new victims. The fact he was able to get back to the younger daughter shows, because there is no Child Protection Bill in place, there are a series of missing parts here we want to cover.”

While the meeting of the C.R.C. is ostensibly for the review of the Cook Islands, Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia, lunchtime ‘side-events’ will be held to focus on unpacking Samoa’s own state of child rights, featuring testimony from children themselves. 

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