Child vendors: Act now to avert crisis

By The Editorial Board 15 September 2023, 10:00AM

Perhaps, the biggest disappointment about Samoa’s child street vendor phenomenon, is how it continues to dominate headlines over the years with no long-term solution in sight.

There has always been a debate – as to whether parents’ decisions to send their children to peddle goods on the streets of Apia during and after school hours – is symptomatic of more families in poverty and being forced out of desperation to send the most vulnerable of their family members to the streets.

Over 14 months ago the findings of a Rapid Assessment Survey of Child Vendors undertaken by researchers from the National University of Samoa (NUS) were unveiled. One of the key findings of the survey was the 27 per cent increase in the number of child vendors plying their trade with more doing it at a very young age. 

Associate Professor Tuiloma Susana Tauaa of the NUS and one of those who presented the survey’s findings last year said the data showed the parents of child vendors were behind the children going out to sell.

"The parents are the main ones telling the kids to go sell, the blame should go to the parents, and the hammerhead should land on them," said Tuiloma at that time.

After many years of debate, Samoa Police have finally decided to take action by enforcing the Education Act 2009 this weekend. An article (No school-aged vendors allowed: Police) in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer quoted the Deputy Police Commissioner, Papalii Monalisa Tiai-Keti who said there is a growing number of young child vendors of compulsory school-age selling during and after school hours and in breach of the law.

"We have started enforcing this Education Act to prevent school-aged children from selling their items on the side of the road exposing them to so many risks," she said. "It's an ongoing concern and many people see this growing in the next 50 years to a much larger and worse [case] scenario if nothing is to be done now.

"Some kids are very young so we fear for their safety, It's quite unsafe and we have already warned the parents and if nothing changes and their behaviour continues then we will resort to something else considering their behaviour.

"We started with the verbal warning three weeks ago and now we have documented the warnings properly.”

Under the Education Act 2009, it is compulsory for all children aged between five years and 16 years to be in school. Papalii added that the patrol will take place during and after school hours on Fridays and Saturdays. 

It is a relief to see this intervention by the Police, which will see child vendors taken out from high-risk locations to reduce their exposure to harm. But we wonder if this is a band-aid solution when very little is known about the rationale behind the parents’ decision to send their children to sell and get exposed to danger.

Why are parents sending their children out onto the streets of Apia to sell when they are aware of the dangers that await them? Are parents neglecting their parental responsibilities by forcing their children to become child vendors? Is there a link between the decision of the parents to send out their children and their current socio-economic status?

These are some of the hard questions that need to be asked by the authorities including the relevant government ministries in order for an appropriate policy intervention to be formulated. In fact, at the unveiling of the survey’s findings last year by the NUS researchers, they called for a follow-up survey to investigate and ascertain the factors within Samoan families that are leading to an increase in child street vendors.

We appreciate the intervention by the Police – which will see the removal of these vulnerable children from areas where their personal safety is at stake – but how sustainable is this course of action long-term with more pressure being placed on law enforcement authorities to perform due to the rise in criminal activities amid Samoa’s preparations to play host to one of the largest international conferences in the world next year?

It is obvious that more thinking should go into this complimented by data that could come from another survey with a specific focus on the families of the child street vendors. The Deputy Police Commissioner’s concerns about this social phenomenon deteriorating into a law and order issue in the next 50 years are on point, which is why all the various State and Non-State Actors have to work together and continue dialogue in order to come up with a homegrown solution. It would be unfair to our children if this social phenomenon remains unresolved, festers, and becomes an intergenerational crisis.

By The Editorial Board 15 September 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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