Samoa not eliminating child labour: U.S. Labour Dep't report

Samoa has made minimal progress in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, says a United States Department of Labour report.

The U.S. Department of Labour report, which was published recently, states that Samoan children continue to be engaged in worst forms of child labour as well as street vending.

“Children in Samoa are engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. Children also perform dangerous tasks in street vending,” states the report. “Children who are street vending may work late at night, are exposed to exhaust fumes, and have an increased risk of being hit by passing traffic.”

The report added that it found no evidence of laws that ban the using, procuring or offering of children for illicit activities including for the production and trafficking of drugs. 

While the Samoa Government has a mechanism to coordinate interagency efforts to address child labor, the report revealed that it did not meet during the reporting period.

The report also identified what it called “gaps” in the powers of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor (M.C.I.L.) to enforce child labour laws.

“However, gaps exist within the authority of the M.C.I.L. that may hinder adequate enforcement of their child labor laws.

“[The] Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor enforces the Labour and Employment Relations Act, which includes investigating complaints of child labor law violations and refers cases to the Ministry of Police and the Office of the Attorney General for enforcement.

“The Ministry for Women, Community, and Social Development also assists the M.C.I.L. investigation’s as needed.”

According to the report, the M.C.I.L. has powers to protect children including those who are street vendors. 

“In 2019, under the division of the Child Protection Unit, sweeps to monitor children in street vending were conducted.

“Once a child was identified, his or her family was located and a home visit scheduled, during which the Child Protection teams would educate families on the importance of attending school and the risks and hazards of street vending.”

The report also acknowledged the Samoa Government’s school fee grant scheme for private and public schools, to provide financial assistance to families to help offset and alleviate some of the burden of school fees, such as registration, uniforms and transportation fees.

However, the measles outbreak in 2019 led to the shut down of all schools, which impacted the children’s education.

“In 2019, a measles outbreak prompted the government to shut down all schools and mandated vaccinations; schools were closed for about a month and a half, which likely left children without alternative educational opportunities as children were banned from all public gatherings,” states the report.

“The (Samoa) Government responded to this by drafting and passing the Infants Amendment Bill No. 2, which introduced an immunization and vaccination policy mandating up-to-date vaccinations for all school-aged children before being admitted to attend schools; there have been no reported cases of children prevented from attending.”

The report nonetheless remains concerned about the vulnerability of Samoa’s children due to what it says are gaps in Samoa’s legal framework.

“However, gaps exist in Samoa’s legal framework do not adequately protect children from the worst forms of child labor, including the prohibition of using children in illicit activities.”

In 2019 the M.C.I.L. Division for Research, Policy and Planning met with the Division for Social Development to review two draft legislations—the Child Protection Policy and the Inter-Agency Services Guide—which at that time were to be forwarded to the Samoan Cabinet for approval.

“While a separate Child Care and Protection Bill draft bill—prohibiting children under age 14 to engage in street vending—does not meet the international standard of age 15 as the minimum age for work, it does prohibit children younger than the compulsory education age from engaging in street vending after 7pm,” the report further stated.

“The current law permits children between ages 12 and 14 to engage in light work for a limited number of hours.

“However neither the current law or the draft Child Care and Protection Bill specify the conditions under which light work may be undertaken nor do they define the activities that are permitted.

“Samoa does not meet the international standard for prohibiting non-state military recruitment because its International Criminal Court Act does not apply to children age 15 to 18.

“Samoa also does not meet the international standard for the prohibition of child commercial sexual exploitation because the Government of Samoa’s Crimes Act does not protect children age 16 to 18.

“As the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.”

The Samoa Observer has contacted the M.C.I.L. for comment in relation to the findings of the U.S. Department of Labour report.

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