Convention summit a chance to improve children's rights

Samoa hosting the Convention on the Rights of the Child (C.R.C.) Committee Session next week is a welcome chance to reflect on what can be done to improve status of children in the Pacific, as countries from across the region converge on Apia this week.

Three Pacific Island countries are slated to undergo a periodic review of their progress towards fully protecting their children: Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu. Kiribati will be conducting a pre-session review.

Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, who is in his second term as a member of the Committee to the C.R.C. said having so many countries meet the committee, and focus on children’s rights is the reason the Extraordinary Session had to come to the region.

It is the first time a United Nations (U.N.) treaty body has ever met outside of Geneva and, if successful, may be a blueprint for more of the same.

“By going to the region you breathe fresh air into everything – into people’s attitudes, approaches, and their minds and ultimately you hope it all works out for the benefit of children,” Justice Vui said.   

As well as the official delegations from the Governments under review, delegations from Fiji, Vanuatu, Nauru, Tonga, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea are flying to Samoa to participate in the uniquely accessible meeting.

“This conference will inspire all of us to do better and that is all of us in the broadest sense," he said. 

“It will also inspire the Government to also inject some momentum into the work they do to improve children’s rights. Hopefully it’s a win-win.”

As hosts, Samoa’s own record on child rights will be under the spotlight, despite not being up for review until December 2021. 

The conference comes just months after a measles epidemic that claimed 83 lives, mostly children under four. The Government's response included a nationwide effort to lift the rates at which children received routine vaccinations from previous lows of just 30 per cent. 

The country’s courts continue to deal with cases involving violence against children too. In early February, a 49-year-old man was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after raping his daughter, just six years after committing the same crime on his older daughter.

The Resident Coordinator for the U.N. in Samoa Simona Marinescu said the case shows how life in Samoa for children is “profoundly concerning.”

“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 told the Samoa Observer at the time.

Ms. Marinescu said she is preparing a review of Samoa’s child protection legislation to address the systemic gaps such as those that allowed the parolee father to access his other children and victimize them. 

Justice Vui said, sadly, most Pacific countries suffer similar rates of violence and sexual abuse against their children.

“These issues are not unique to Samoa,” he said.

“They are the same issues in any Pacific jurisdiction, it is just a difference of scale. I can tell you that in some areas we rank very highly in these issues, and in other issues we rank low in terms of the gravity of the problem.”

But every country that signed up to the C.R.C. wants to improve lives for their children, he believes.

“I think they genuinely want to do something to benefit the children of their country. The problem is always a lack of resources, in some countries politics get in the way, and in some countries, geographical spread makes things almost impossible to achieve. Every country has its own challenges.

“But one thing I can say is they do come and talk to us because they do care about the children of their country. If they didn’t care they wouldn’t have signed the convention and they wouldn’t bother to come to do the review.”

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