Lessons to draw from a family tragedy
We live in a challenging world today and modernisation has not necessarily translated to better outcomes for as well as protection of our children.
Twenty-six years after Samoa’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the courts continue to hear cases of abuse and violence targeting children, most times perpetrated by an older member of his or her family.
Last Friday another matter went before the Supreme Court in Mulinu’u, this time a 62-year-old man who was charged in relation to the death of his 14 years of age son, was found guilty and sentenced to over six years imprisonment.
Presiding Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, when handing down the sentence for the defendant, reminded the father that his son was not an object or a machine to which he could mindlessly turn his anger to.
He then described the case as a domestic violence matter in a family home, which is an issue that the Government and the courts have been trying to stamp out and eliminate for several years.
But then who in their right mind would pick up a stone and throw it at their own child or any child and define that very act as a form of child discipline?
For a nation that professes to be founded on God and wholly embraces the Fa’asamoa – which promotes respect, dignity, love, protection and service in the community – it is incomprehensible that adults, let a lone parents are subjecting the most vulnerable members of our community to abuse, ill treatment and violence.
Upon close scrutiny of the matter that went before the Supreme Court last Friday, you realise that the deceased teen had a troubled upbringing.
The summary of facts tendered in the court during the hearing pointed to a breakdown in the father–son relationship.
In November last year, the father asked his son to do some errands for him while he was drinking. But the court heard that the son swore at his father and told him he was tired.
The response angered his father who picked up a stone and threw it at his son who was attempting to get away, totally unaware that the injury would lead to the death of his son.
And as his son laid on the ground injured, the father took a tree branch and struck him with it twice, in an alcohol-induced rage.
The lack of restraint on the part of the father – as he contemplated picking up the stone and later the tree branch – is shocking.
But any attempts by an adult to discipline a child while under the influence of alcohol is a dangerous mix, which at most times ends in tragedy.
This tragedy, yet again, underscores the negative impact that alcohol is having in the community and in a lot of instances is leading to the loss of lives.
Who knows what could have happened to the 14-year-old child if his father was not consuming alcohol at that time?
And would he have responded differently to his father if alcohol was not involved?
At this juncture we would never know the answers to the above questions, but if one is to remove alcohol from a conversation between a father and his son, you can probably be assured of both reciprocating with love and respect.
It is no wonder Justice Vui appealed to the village councils in January this year to play a more proactive role in addressing what the Judge described as a “pandemic” of alcohol abuse.
“In an effort to avoid problems regularly seen coming before us, the court has said it before, the COVID-19 pandemic is not here but the pandemic in this country is the one involving alcohol, which is an underlying [factor] on the majority of cases that come before us,” Justice Vui said.
“Too many village councils are failing in their duties in that regard.”
However, alcohol might not be the only factor that contributed to the 62-year-old father becoming overwhelmed with rage.
Questions need to be asked on whether the current Government’s promulgation of the use of “reasonable force” by teachers to discipline children at school has become a slippery slope for parental abuse of children.
If a father thinks it is okay to stone his child for being disobedient then we fear other forms of discipline that parents could employ.
It would be remiss for authorities to take a business as usual approach to this tragedy, knowing very well how much more lives could be endangered, if nothing is done to address some of the factors that contributed to the child’s death.
Parents have a responsibility to raise their children to become productive members of the community and to nurture behaviour in them that would make the world a better place to live in.
It is at home where parents are expected to lay the foundations for their children to embrace appropriate values in life to become better people, but do it with love and care without endangering their lives.