Joining the dots: families need help

2020 was a difficult year with the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic extensive, leaving Samoa’s economy in tatters and putting increasing pressure on families and livelihoods.

But the impact of the pandemic on families in the rural community cannot be assessed – until organisations who work and interact with ordinary Samoan families on a daily basis through their various programmes – share data that they’ve collected.

In August last year new research by the United Nations reported that over two-thirds of Samoans lost income and had trouble repaying debts, due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The data from the research concluded that not only 68 per cent of Samoans lost income due to the global public health crisis, but a large number ate less at home and struggled to pay their debts. 

Suffice to say the U.N. research confirmed that hundreds of people are currently struggling to put food on the table for their families, which in the last nine months has placed them in more vulnerable positions, especially women and children.

As heads of the family, there are a lot of expectations placed on men in Samoa, to be in positions to be able to feed, cloth and take care of their families’ welfare. But the loss of daily or weekly income, either through the lack of income generation opportunities or lay-off from full-time employment, can heap pressure on men which can lead to fallouts between couples and ultimately violence. 

Even the absence of parents can lead to older children taking on the parental responsibilities for the sake of their younger siblings, thereby leaving the children defenceless and susceptible to various forms of crime. 

On Monday we were able to join the dots – on how the vulnerability of women and children was exacerbated by the pandemic last year – when the Samoa Victim Support Group (S.V.S.G.) revealed appalling statistics on the number of crime-related cases it handled in 2020.

The S.V.S.G. President Siliniu Lina Chang told the Samoa Observer that they handled 3,169 assault (general), attempted rape and suicide, indecent assault, sexual violation, rape and incest cases in 2020 and added that the total number of cases was the highest in the organisation’s 15-year history.

The previous year in 2019 the S.V.S.G. only handled 1,211 cases, though this time Siliniu blamed the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on families in Samoa, for the doubling of the cases that they handled last year.

Therefore, will financial support from the Government for families affected by the economic downturn brought on by coronavirus help to reduce the vulnerability of men, women and children in these difficult times and over the long-term address social ills such as domestic violence and assault?

We would like to think so and the Government intervention – through weekly cash payments to families using networks already established by non-government organisations such as the S.V.S.G. or subsidising the cost of essential food items in partnership with a retail company – should only target families that have lost all forms of income generation including employment.

The Government has over the last year brought down its COVID-19 Stimulus Package which included financial assistance for vulnerable citizens. A number of non-government organisations such as the S.V.S.G. – who rely on public donations to fund their operations – were selected for assistance in a bid to ensure the continuation of service to vulnerable people.

But the data released by the S.V.S.G. on Monday, on the rise in the number of cases it has handled in 2020, confirms that there are gaps in the delivery of financial assistance from the Government’s COVID-19 Stimulus Package hence the rise in the number of victim cases that were referred to it last year.

Tragically, some of the above gaps could translate to family members becoming prone to crime, if not addressed with urgency by the Government.

Dr Robert Kirkby, a macroeconomist with the Victoria University of Wellington, suggested in an interview with the Samoa Observer on Monday that the Samoa Government is still in a position to do “more” in terms of assistance to citizens impacted by the state of emergency restrictions to mitigate risks associated with COVID-19, despite the plunge in foreign investments for the 2019–2020 Financial Year.

Cutting down on unnecessary Government expenditure and diverting funding to essential areas such as financial assistance for stricken families would be the best use of meagre public finances in these unprecedented times.

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