Youth-focused organisation condemns Government

Teen Challenge Samoa director, Eric Poe, has strongly condemned a Government proposal to legalise 18-year-olds to sell alcohol. 

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Mr. Poe warned that if the proposal becomes a bill and is enacted into law, it will create and add to the social problems that the country is currently facing. 

He said Teen Challenge values the life of a young person and that’s the difference as entrepreneurs and lawmakers will always look at the numbers. 

“Oh it’s just 10, but if you look at 10 serious criminals in Samoa, we just have enough with the two escapees already, and the whole nation is just worried and scared,” he said.

The proposal will contradict Government policy, according to Mr. Poe, as the law sets the legal alcohol consumption age and nightclub entry at 21 years. Yet the proposed legislation will allow 18-year-olds to enter nightclubs to sell alcohol, but not drink, he added.

“I don’t understand how they think of this. As social providers, our work here at Teen Challenge is dealing with young offenders and so for us to see a proposal like this coming in is a big concern. 

“To us as social providers, the value of one young person, money cannot buy that and if Government allows these young 18-year-olds to enter these clubs, then that’s the failure of the Government,” he said. 

Mr. Poe said it would be nice for the Government to raise the age of alcohol consumption to 22 or 23, instead of considering proposals that would have dire consequences on Samoa’s young population. 

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The Teen Challenge programme started in May 2017, and two years after establishment, they have recorded a little over 340 people of which 110 are 19 years and below. 

And 54 of the 110 youth entered the programme due to alcohol, according to Mr. Poe. 

“Most of those 54 people are already drinking right from the age of 13. If you talk to those 21 years old and upwards, they started from when they were teenagers, because in our programme, we also have a question on when did you start drinking? 

“My point is you can’t really control youth, but to see the Government open up their regulations and laws regarding money and unemployment issues, and neglect to look at the social issues, which are more important and are the realities.

Mr. Poe said there are other alternatives of providing employment for young people, and some prefer to farm the land and help their families. 

“But you can have youths who work but face social work in their lives, which also involves many other issues like assault, sexual assault, even up to suicide. We don’t just look at things like unemployment, but we also have to consider these other issues.

“To me, teenagers are very vulnerable. To serve alcohol you don’t serve it in the streets, you serve it in the nightclubs and bars, so following them in those environment, it throws them into a very high risk environment. But the very concern is the girls, not only the boys. 

“We all know if young girls come in the nightclub to serve with drunken men around, what will be next, they will be assaulted, sexually assaulted.” 

Mr. Poe said there are more developments that could be done to help these people and these are things the Government should invest more money into, to help the youths who are not working and not in school to tap into other avenues to supply for their families.

“In the streets, we still have child vendors at night, and I’ve been attending consultations after consultations to formulate laws and policies to deal with this very small community and family, but still the Government can’t solve this. 

“So if they can’t solve this, if they can’t enforce laws, then what makes you think they can protect the lives of these kids from the influence of those who drink, because these 18-year-olds will also work with them? These kids are more exposed to dangers and other dangerous things, when compared to kids who sell ulas and stuff at night just for the sake of money and employment.”

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