Children's testimony of concern to Rights Committee
Amal Aldoseri, vice-chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said some remarks by Samoan students to the Committee on Monday about the rape and sexual abuse were gravely concerning.
On the first day of the 84th Session of the Committee, 100 students were invited to answer questions about their lives to the 13-strong group of experts, to help them better understand the Pacific context before they review the child rights progress of three other Pacific nations.
On sexual abuse, violence and corporal punishment, the students offered deep analysis and surprising responses that Ms. Aldoseri said demands Government attention, such as acknowledging that physical punishment at home is normal, and that girls are told to dress modestly to avoid sexual harassment.
“It’s within our culture and religion to discipline our children physically, but sometimes we don’t know the line between discipline and abuse. It’s confusing for us to find that line, if it’s discipline or abuse,” one student said.
“We are discouraged to talk about reproductive health because we feel like this is a topic most adults don’t like to tell kids,” said another. “But I feel like we should be more aware of it. Since we aren’t, most cases of teenage pregnancies are because we aren’t taught about safe sex and reproductive health formally.”
“We are too young to deal with these things so they [school] would encourage us to seek help,” a male student said addressing sexual violence.
One student said parents believe sexual and reproductive health lessons should come from home not from school, which is why classes are offered to only senior students at most high schools.
Another from a girl’s only school said that element made discussions more free and not uncomfortable. But she said those classes include lessons on “what we have to wear, that we have to be modest and other cases.
“They teach us about sex education however we do not have a method of protecting ourselves. Being aware is the only protection we have, we are not strong against men in the case of rape and sexual abuse,” she continued.”
“I was surprised to understand that girls sometimes may be looked as instigating rape,” Ms. Aldoseri said, in an interview with the Samoa Observer.
“What I sensed is that [girls] actually think they can instigate sexual abuse by the way they dress. This has to be made very clear, this is not a justification.
“It is something the government should work on,” she said, suggesting boys are enrolled in educational or awareness programmes about the matter.
“Maybe family values also has a lot to do with this, when a mother keeps telling her girls don't attract attention of boys, cover yourself, dress decently... and what is decent?”
The C.R.C. is firmly against all forms of corporal punishment. When a child said they could not always distinguish between abuse and discipline, that raised alarm bells, Ms. Aldoseri said.
“That was very deep analysis on the practice of corporal punishment. They do not know which is which.”
U.N.I.C.E.F. Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett said more work has to be done to help parents and children demand a more effective parenting method that does not involve violence, which is never acceptable, by offering them evidence of less abusive ways of doing things.
“It’s true that when you are exposed to this day after day after day you tend to see it as normal, but it is not normal and should never be seen as normal.
“I think we need to encourage productive ways for children to have their opinions heard and get their voice at the table, and sessions like that are very, very helpful in doing that.”
Over the 90 minute session with the children which Ms. Aldoseri chaired, the children offered their opinions of faith, Samoan culture, education, health and technology.
She said they all represented themselves and their peers well.
“I think they are lovable, beautiful, intelligent and really very extraordinary children that we met yesterday.
“I am so glad to be a part of this session with all the children, they were fantastic. I was so pleased, everyone was so pleased with what we heard from them. It was such a pleasure.”
At home in Bahrain, Ms. Aldoseri founded the Bahrain Youth Parliament and the Arab Child Festival. She led preparation of the first ever National Child Strategy, and is a member of the National Committee for Childhood.