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Moulding the next generation of human rights champions

The attendance of children at next week’s extraordinary session of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Samoa would be unprecedented.

Rightly so, UN Committee member and Samoa’s Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, is ecstatic with their participation.

“The most children we have had on my time in the Committee, sitting in front of us, would be about a dozen, because it’s expensive,” he said. “You can’t just pick people up and fly them to Geneva; it’s not a simple process. The opportunity to do this with 100 children is outstanding.”

According to an article titled “Children’s role at UN Committee session a world first”, published in the February 27, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, children between 14-18 years of age and representing nine Upolu schools, are being invited to attend side sessions on Samoan children’s rights issues. Five will be selected to co-moderate the sessions alongside a U.N. representative.

Pacific Community Programme Manager, Ashley Bowe, says the participation of children in the extraordinary session on Monday should be celebrated.

“My understanding is the Committee on the Rights of the Child has never had a formal part of this session where it is dedicated solely to children, so an audience of only children with direct contact to the Committee is a wonderful achievement and something we should celebrate.”

The participating children have been given resources such as concept notes and background information to study to prepare themselves for the side events. Civil society representatives, church leaders and village chiefs are being invited to attend the sessions and share their views on children’s rights as well as hear from the children present.

While we join in the celebrations of the participation of the children in the historical 84th Extraordinary Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, we must continue to remind ourselves of the risks that they face, and at most times from the very people they have placed their trust in.

This month two articles on the front page of this newspaper, published close to two weeks apart, pointed to the risks that our children continue to face today in the community. Tragically, the perpetrators hold positions of trust.

In the first case, a former church pastor was sentenced to four years and 10 months imprisonment on February 19, after he pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexual connection with a family member and one count of indecent assault. 

And 13 days prior to the ex-pastor’s sentencing, a father was jailed for 20 years after he pleaded guilty to three counts of rape against his youngest daughter. The man committed the crime while on parole for a similar crime, but against his eldest daughter, of which he was found guilty and sentenced in 2013.

Last month – the first month of 2020 – a former teacher appeared before the Supreme Court for the alleged indecent assault of four young girls in a primary school. 

There is no doubt that the rights of our children are under siege and the protections that institutions such as family once provided are either no longer there or viciously teared down. The threats posed to our children today are coming from within.

It is why we hope that the participation of the 100-plus Samoan children in the 84th Extraordinary Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, will enable them to become aware of their own rights and the need for them to speak out. 

Getting the church leaders and village chiefs to join the sessions should go a long way in removing barriers and misunderstanding when it comes to the issue, and the need for the community and the relevant stakeholders to find common ground to unite to promote the rights of children.

We say this while being cognisant of the findings of the Government-sanctioned and Ombudsman/National Human Rights Institution-led National Inquiry into Family Violence, and the implications of the Government, various State Actors and the community taking a business-as-usual approach towards the report’s recommendations.

Not forgetting a recent study on bullying among adolescents in Samoa, which found that a total of 79 per cent of Samoan males and 70 per cent of females had experienced bullying, which are some of the highest rates in the world.

Often it would take a generation to address societal ills such violence against women and children. We hope the participation of the 100-plus children in the international human rights conference in Apia next week will create the next generation of human rights champions, who would aspire for a society free of violence and injustices of all forms and kinds.

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless. 

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