The missing children phenomenon points to parenting

By The Editorial Board 22 March 2023, 6:00AM

There has been a marked increase in the number of children going missing in recent months in Samoa. In fact, based on information posted on the Ministry of Police Prisons and Corrections Services' official Facebook page, there have been seven cases of missing-and-found children reported between March 2023 and December 2022.

Prior to December 2022, there were several cases of missing children reported to the Police, with their images posted on the Ministry’s social media pages and a follow-up post confirming that they’ve been found and reunited with their families.

But why are there increasing incidences of missing children in Samoa in this time and age of increased networking and telecommunications and more awareness of the vulnerability of the country’s young population?

The Police Commissioner, Auapa'au Logoitino Filipo was approached by this newspaper and asked to comment on the missing children cases. An article (‘New trend’ linked to missing children) in last Sunday’s edition of the Sunday Samoan reported Auapa'au’s comments.

He spoke of a “new trend” in Samoa, which the Police have increasingly linked to missing children cases, which is a cause for concern and needs further scrutiny.

"There is a new trend with children these days. It seems when they are being told off by their parents, they just leave their homes and don't want to go back," Auapa'au said. 

"When the parents notice that a child hasn't returned and it is late in the evening, they would call the police to help them find their kids."

The Police Commissioner said the increasing incidences of missing children have added to the Ministry's responsibilities, but he emphasised that there is nothing they can do to avoid it.

To address the issue going forward, he said the Police now round up children they see wandering the streets and take them to the station for a lecture before they are dropped off at home. The age bracket of most of the children going missing is between 8 and 17 years, according to Auapa'au.

We note with concern the demographic of the youngsters at the center of this phenomenon. The fact that most or all of the children who went missing (but were later found and reunited with their families) are between 8 and 17 years of age should set off alarm bells and compel parents and the community to stop and take notice.

Why are the children fleeing their homes after being “told off” by their parents? Is it because the parents are subjecting their children to extreme forms of child discipline which border on physical assault? 

The Police Commissioner said the new trend is that children flee their homes after being disciplined by their parents and refused to go back. But why wouldn’t the children want to return to their homes?

It is good to hear that the Police have decided to address the issue by rounding up children seen wandering the streets, and taking them to the station for a lecture before they are dropped off at home. The men and women in blue are being proactive through this intervention, as it is preventing vulnerable youngsters from getting into harm’s way, and consequently saving lives.

But how long can the Police sustain this in the face of increasing demands for their services to attend to pressing law and order and public safety issues around the country? And will they have the time and the resources when Samoa, for example, host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) next year?

We are of the view that it is unfair for the community to expect the Police to intervene “when a child goes missing” when the actions of the parents could be the cause of a child fleeing his or her home.

It is time for parents to take a step back and question their methods of child discipline and whether they are overstepping the mark. Are parents lashing out at their children because as adults they are spending less time at home nurturing and raising their children and more time outside the house playing bingo or going to parties?

Any form of violence against children wouldn’t come as a surprise as a national public inquiry in 2018 into family violence in Samoa by the Office of the Ombudsman found "physical, harsh verbal discipline/violence and sexual violence towards children has reached epidemic levels." The inquiry also concluded that 9 out of 10 children in Samoa experience violence in their lifetime.

Perhaps, parents need to be reminded continually of their obligations to their children, and the fact that Samoa ratified the Convention on the Rights of a Child in 1994 and has a responsibility to protect the children from all forms of harm.

By The Editorial Board 22 March 2023, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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