Children street vendors, the skeleton in the closet

They knock on your car window as soon as you drive into a supermarket car park, offering popcorn packets, cotton buds or snacks. Others are off in a whisker, spraying your tyres with oily water, before proceeding to shine it and then coming back to you for your leftover $1 or $2 tala coins as payment. 

Meet Apia’s street vending children, a number of them so young, that their innocence and presence would immediately invoke thoughts of helplessness and then anger. You would ask questions of their parents, and the rationale behind their decision to continue to send their children to sell in the streets of Apia, consequently exposing them to the dangers of the outside world.

The Samoa Observer has published articles and editorials on the issue over the years, appealing for Government action, which if not addressed could have wider ramifications for the country in the long-term.

In January this year a 13-year-old girl from Falelauniu village, Sina Faaulufalena told this newspaper in an interview that she became a child vendor, due to her family’s inability to pay for her school fees.

“I do not attend school because my family does have financial support to send me to school. My mother passed away and at the moment I am raised by my grandfather,” she said.

In April last year a family saved a child vendor from what could have been a fatal accident, when they stopped a truck driver from running over a youngster, who after spraying and cleaning the truck’s tyres, fell asleep under the vehicle.

Last Saturday, this newspaper published a story based on the testimony of a 16-year-old youth – whose family handcuffed and took him to non-government organisation Teen Challenge over his refusal to continue street vending.

Teen Challenge Director, Aumua Eric Poe, told this newspaper that the youth had been street vending since 2013 and normally returned home after 1.00am when he had completed his selling. 

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His family did not look for him late nights while he was still on the street plying his trade, and he eventually committed criminal offences, leading to his apprehension by the Police. 

The challenges that the 16-year-old faced on the street and his family’s use of force to coerce him to continue vending are some of the major factors behind the push by Aumua for the Government to ban street vending.

"In five or 10 years time, we will be seeing these kids in a much worse situation just like five years ago with this kid, he wasn't like this but from vending day and night without education, he has [got] worse," he warned. 

Aumua’s concerns about the impact that street vending is having – in molding these children to gradually fall out of favour with the law – is a worrying development. It makes you wonder how many other children, who were loving and obedient members of the household, are turning to crime due to the increasing exposure they are having to social evils through street vending.

We acknowledge the work of non-government organisations such as the Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG), who are doing a fabulous job with their rehabilitation programs targeting street vendor children. 

The Group’s Hot Soup Program, which is made possible courtesy of funding provided by the US Embassy in Apia, is enabling children to learn livelihood training skills. 

SVSG President Siliniu Lina Chang, when giving details on their program, acknowledged that their numbers are growing Apia.

However, it is time for the Government to acknowledge that increasing poverty amongst Samoan families, and their inability to put food on the table is leading to parents abusing their greatest assets – their children. As the 16-year-old youth revealed, parents are being forced by their lack of income to pull their children out of schools, and to get them onto the streets in Apia to sell. 

Coming from the region’s largest nation Papua New Guinea, where progress continues to be hampered by the lack of income and wealth creation opportunities for the country’s burgeoning youth population (where youth under the age of 25 make up 60 per cent of PNG’s 8 million population), the growth in the number of child street vendors in Samoa should serve as a warning sign to the Government and leaders of this country for the matter to be given priority. 

It would be unwise to leave this matter unresolved and be wholly dependent on non-government organisations and donor partners to continue to provide solutions, when income generation and wealth creation opportunities should at the end of the day be the mandate of Government.

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless.

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