Child Rights and protecting our vulnerable

The historic 84th Extraordinary Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child is now underway in Samoa from March 2-6.

The Committee (CRC) comprises 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by State. It also monitors implementation of two optional protocols to the Convention, involvement of children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, according to the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s website.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi welcomed the Committee in an address Monday morning, saying the conference in Samoa offered the opportunity for the C.R.C. and its stakeholders to meet within “contextualised settings” in order to progress the implementation of the Convention.

“We must recognize that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not possible. Thus, opportunities such as this extraordinary meeting of the C.R.C. in Samoa are critical to enhancing engagement of the Committee and key stakeholders, in contextualized settings essential for implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he said.

The concerns expressed by P.M. Tuilaepa – in his address to the Committee members and conference delegates – are relevant to the Samoa of today and shows how the universality of human rights can often clash with local norms and cultures.

Therefore, we hope the discussions at the five-day conference will provide a platform for all parties, to discuss the challenges when it comes to implementing child rights and agree on a deadline and working towards implementing the Convention.

P.M. Tuilaepa used the occasion to assure the Committee that the country continues to maintain its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, and made reference to the use of regional and international forums to continue to raise the issue.

“We continue to advocate for the importance of ensuring, Samoan, the Blue Pacific and also Small island Developing States (S.I.D.S.) perspectives, challenges and opportunities, are clearly articulated and understood,” he said.

We welcome the assurance by P.M. Tuilaepa to the Committee members and conference delegates, in relation to Samoa’s performance in the implementation and enforcement of human rights laws, and acknowledge that it is a work in progress.

But systemic gaps or legal loopholes has in recent years opened the door to perpetrators of crimes targeting children, enabling them to get lighter sentences or reoffend, often due to the Government's failure to set strict parole conditions.

The increase in sexual assault and violence in recent years targeting Samoan children, at most times perpetrated by a family member or a person of standing in the community, is a case in point. 

Last month the Supreme Court sentenced a man to 20 years imprisonment, after he raped his 13-year-old daughter while he was out on parole. He was serving a 7-year sentence for raping his eldest daughter in 2013 and was due to be released in October this year.

The Government’s Parole Board gave the man parole, despite the severity of his crime and the danger he posed to his daughters. 

It is not known if his parole came with strict conditions which would ensure the victims were not put in danger in any way. But the reoffending of the man against his youngest daughter confirms the need for the Board’s responsibilities to be reviewed, including the evaluation methodology which the Board used to determine when an inmate can and should return to the community after spending time in prison.

The plight of Samoa’s children street vendors is another grey area that the Government continues to overlook, despite increasing concerns expressed by local and international commentators. 

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) partnered with the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) to compile a report on child street vendors in Samoa. 

Speaking during the report’s launch in March, 2017 the Minister of MCIL, Lautafi Selafi Purcell, highlighted the risks that child vendors are exposed to. These included abuse, crime and involvement in illegal activities. 

Three years after the launching of the report, Government entities tasked to implement its recommendations continue to take a business-as-usual approach, resulting in the continued exposure of innocent children to dangers on the streets of Apia.

We hope our hosting of the 84th Extraordinary Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Samoa is a wakeup call for the Government to act for the benefit of our children.

Have a lovely Tuesday Samoa and God bless. 

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