Poverty, street vendors and doing away with band aid solutions

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The good news is that the Government is finally moving on a bill to stop children under 14 from being street vendors. The bill is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development as part of the plan to address core issues that deal directly with child labour, slavery and street vendors in Samoa.

It’s about time, don’t you think? 

We’ve been talking about this issue for many, many years yet it has only been lip service, nothing more. 

How do we know? It’s simple. More and more young people are being used as the faces of poverty, struggles and hardship in Samoa. 

Folks, photos don’t lie. We have young people sleeping on the streets and many of them are not at school at all because they are being forced to be breadwinners for their families. 

These young people risk their lives at all hours of the day and night. Besides, all you have to do is take a drive to any store in Apia and you will know what we are talking about. 

It’s almost like they exist to remind us about the reality of poor Samoa today.

Now the Government is finally moving towards dealing with the issue. 

The question is if they are to be removed from the streets, where will all these desperate families turn to? Stealing? Robbery? Goodness knows what else?

Which is why the attitude from M.W.C.S.D, if the comments by the outgoing C.E.O, Fuimapoao Beth Onesemo-Tuilaepa, is anything to go by, are encouraging.

 “We have put emphasis on putting together a comprehensive legal framework which looks at the children’s care,” she said. “Ultimately the aim is for the parents to have the ability to support their children in areas they are not at risk.”

Fuimapoao reminded that they had piloted a programme in 2016 called the Samoa Supporting Children initiative.

“This is all part of addressing core issues of child labour. We had worked with 11 families in giving them pathways to create their own businesses and for the children to return to school.”

The thing to remember is that dealing with street vendors is not as easy as removing them from the streets. There are roots and causes that must be adequately addressed otherwise the law only becomes a band-aid solution. It means the problem will move from one place and manifest itself elsewhere.

Poverty, lack of income opportunities, education and many other root causes need to be dealt with.

Continued Fuimapoao: “The first thing we have set aside is being judgemental and to be quite honest, unless you have walked in the shoes of these parents or mothers, you cannot pass judgement. 

“We don’t want our parents to feel stigmatised because that can draw different reactions and most of them are negative and we also don’t want to stigmatise these children because if you talk to them, they see it as their duty to help their parents out. 

“I know everyone is concerned about this issue, but please don’t judge because we don’t want to stigmatise them. We need to be looking at what is the root causes of these issues and a lot is around economic opportunities. 

“Also sometimes these parents they go back to educational opportunities they themselves had. So part of what we are working on is to develop different pathways either for the parents or the children to get back into businesses and educational opportunities.  

“But ultimately the aim is for the parents to have the ability to support their children in areas they are not at risk.” 

Lastly, Fuimapoao raised a very valid point.

“It is all very well we can say that to parents, but their practical reality is that they see no opportunities and this is the only way to meet their daily needs,” she said. “So if you prosecute the parents and they will go to jail, what happens to the child? That is why we need to implement the ongoing programme we have to again address core issues within homes.”

We couldn’t agree more.

But we believe there is a very simple solution to all this. Think about this. Instead of the Government wasting money on useless projects, exotic trips to far ends of the world paid for by taxpayers, corruption, abuse of monies and resources and a very expensive public service, imagine if all those millions were allocated to some of these very poor families so they can make something good for themselves? 

Imagine if each of these families were to get say $50,000 to start a small business, develop a commercial farm or send their children away for proper education? Think of the returns on the investment. Think about the positive possibilities.  

Where can the Government get the money? Why don’t we start with the National Provident Fund? What do you think?

Have a great Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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