Drawing a line under child street vending

You cannot miss them the moment you walk up to a shop, leave a market or while waiting for a bus or taxi on the streets of Apia.

They will come running to you with a bag of banana or taro chips packs, cotton buds, batteries and assorted items. Some of them as young as four years of age with their innocence immediately striking you.

A lot has been written on Samoa’s child street vendors over the years. Reports and commentaries in the pages of the Samoa Observer continue to bring attention to an issue, which is complex and can stir up a lot of emotion, though there is consensus that it is a matter that should be addressed.

It is why we note with interest the call by local non-government organisation Tofa Sinasina Incorporated for the practice to be banned completely.

An article titled “Child street vendor ban proposed”, which was published in the March 6, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, quoted Tofa Sinasina Inc. President Tavui Anne Eves-Laumea on her organisation’s plan to push for a ban.

"We don't want anymore vendors, night or day. I see them and they call out and if visitors don't buy anything they swear at them. It is bad for us and it is not good for our culture,” she said. "It is about time Government representatives, village representatives, women representatives to come together, sit down and look at it seriously.”

Legislation should follow extensive consultations, according to Tavui, who said it is time for the Police to enforce the law. Tofa Sinasina Inc. plans to take its proposal to address child street vendors to present to schools and villages as well as the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.

But the move to legislate to bring some form of control of this practice is not the first and won’t be the last. The country already has laws to address child labour, which a Samoa Law Reform Commission report titled “Childcare and Protection Legislation - Final Report 11/13” published February 2013 highlighted. 

According to the Commission, the prohibition in the employment of children is enforced in the Labour and Employment Act 1972; the Education Act 2009 prohibits the employment of school-age children; and the Police Offenses Ordinance 1961 places restrictions on the peddling of certain goods except for “Samoan food stuff” after a license is obtained from the Police Commissioner. 

Close to seven years after the release of the Commission’s report, the same challenges relating to child street vendors remain unresolved, raising questions about the urgency of the relevant Government agencies to take action.

In fact in early 2017 a report titled “Report of the Rapid Assessment of Children Working on the Streets of Apia, Samoa: A Pilot Study” was commissioned by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) and the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) and released.

Some key features of that report include education programmes for parents promoting the value of education for their children; conducting a national survey on child labour; and improve monitoring and enforcement of local laws. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi spoke at the report’s launching in 2017, and blaming “greediness” as a major factor behind the children becoming street vendors, while admitting some families didn’t have money.

“Some just don’t have enough money to provide for all members of their family. That’s why most children are on the streets,” he said at that time.

Despite the commissioning of the joint report, it appears to be business as usual with child street vendors continuing to make headlines for sleeping outside business premises, exposing themselves to hazardous situations, and engaging in mischievous conduct amongst other charges.

The failure by the relevant Government agencies to act on the 2017 recommendations of the joint report, and the refusal by the Police to ensure school-age children are in classrooms points to a deep-seated societal problem that demands attention by the Government and all relevant stakeholders.

In early 2018 it was revealed the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development was drafting a bill on child rights that would ban children under 14 years of age from becoming street vendors. The proposed legislation did not make it to Parliament.

However, the lack of income generation opportunities and poverty within families brought on by the increase in the cost of living, could be forcing parents to risk forcing their children to sell on the streets until the late hours. 

Apia-based youth-focused organisation, Teen Challenge has reported an increasing number of street vendors, turning to them for assistance to get out of a life of street vending.

But ultimately we will never know the challenges that individual families face on a daily basis – until we bring them and everyone else involved in child protection to the same table as expressed by the Tofa Sinasina Inc. President – to ensure a long-term solution can be found after extensive dialogue and consultation. 

Our children deserve this much after years of numerous workshops, conferences, reports and studies have led to nowhere for the most vulnerable members of our community.

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless. 

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