Minister deflects child abuse questions

Samoa's Minister for Justice and Courts Administration on Monday declined calls to comment on policies to intervene against domestic violence in Samoan homes as he said he did not have figures on violence to hand. 

At the Convention on the Rights of the Child conference, Samoan children repeated calls for justice for child street vendors and peers subject to violence in their homes or at school.

But Justice Minister Faaolesa Katopau Ainu'u, said that without accurate figures before him he could not comment on whether Samoan adults were taking child rights seriously enough.

"I am reluctant to answer that question at this point in time," he said.

When pressed, Faaolesa said cases of abuse against children must be taken individually - and many are determined by parenting techniques. 

"I would interpret that as an attempt by parents to discipline their children. I think some members of the community may interpret those actions by parents to discipline their children as abuse. It really depends on the situation," he said. 

"All the parents in Samoa have no aspirations to keep their children from school. That hasn't happened in Samoa, I can tell you."

The Minister was the only representative of Samoa's Government on a press conference panel that included members of the Pacific Community, the United Nations and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

At the other end of Taumeasina Island Resort on Monday, 100 children were present at a question and answer session between them and other members of the committee about the realities of their lives. 

Committee members quizzed the children on their access to education, fresh food and water, their relationships to religion, and to violence. 

One child told the committee that physical violence was part of his "daily routine".

“Do we find physical punishment normal? Yes, we find it very normal. Physical punishment to my family is a daily routine,” he said.

“Even though the U.N. is strongly against it, it is a daily routine. If we talk back, if we do something wrong, physical punishment is the answer.”

Watch the Committee meeting Samoa's children representatives:

Speaking to the Samoa Observer after the Meet the Children Session, Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, who is also a member of the Committee, said he found that troubling.

“We are always sad to hear the bad stories children tell us, always,” he said.

“To hear a child say that corporal punishment is a daily routine? And that is the word he used, not only daily, but it’s the routine.

“So for him, it’s like brushing his teeth and washing his face in the morning, is a morning beating he gets. What kind of world are we living in when children are beaten as part of their daily routine. No, no, no, this nonsense must stop,” he said.

In late 2018, the Ombudsman’s research into the prevalence of family violence in Samoa revealed that abuse has become so common, especially towards young people, that few victims recognise they are even being harmed.

The 1,500 people survey found 86 per cent of respondents have been yelled at or spoken to harshly; 86 per cent had been kicked, punched, slapped or attacked using a hard object; and 24 per cent had been choked.

Another study, The Samoa Family Health and Safety Study of 2006, found 86 per cent of surveyed people believe their abuse is normal or not serious. Even worse, 70 per cent believed their abuse was justified.

Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma told the meeting official opening that leads to children becoming immune to the problem, 

“Without intending it, the end result of what we are doing and how we are living, however much we may deny it is that literally we have become very much at home with violence in its different forms," the Ombudsman said. 

“As a result our children grow up desensitized and accustomed to violence as a viable, ready response in situations of everyday live. 

“They grow up to be bullies at school and either perpetrators or accepting victims of violence in adult life.”

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