Rights of 3 year old child locked up by police miserably let down

BY Lance Polu

APIA: SATURDAY 18 OCTOBER 2014: The 3 year old toddler who was locked up in a police holding cell for 57 minutes on 26 September together with his father “was miserably let down with regards to his rights by the responsible people around him; his father and police officers.”

This is according to the Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma in his report on the incident. He is recommending that the police officers involved be demoted in rank. These include the Inspector who gave the instruction to lockup the father who was with his son and the Sergeant to whom the order was given and who passed it on down.

“In all of the circumstances of the case under examination here, the three year old toddler involved was miserably let down with regard to his rights by the responsible people around him; his father and police officers,” said the Ombudsman.

“This case provides a neat example of the ‘Rights of the Child’ in action and is a good opportunity for us to consider what they are and what they are not. What they are not is the view that exists in Samoa that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) gives children a ‘carte blanche’ right to do as they please.

“The  CRC is instead a set of principles that seek to address vulnerabilities unique to children – in this case not being placed in detention and having their right to liberty removed unlawfully or disproportionately.

“The 3 year old involved in this case was not afforded the protection he was entitled to because of the incompetent and unprofessional conduct of police officers.

“The father of the 3 year old boy was blatantly courting trouble with the police. He chose to have his son with him during the risky unlawful activity of driving around in an unregistered vehicle against repeated police warnings not to do so. When inevitably the boy was embroiled in his mess he did not do what a reasonable parent would have done to avoid undesirable treatment of the boy. These circumstances, when viewed together with the cool precise time keeping he was able to bring to bear on things, do not reflect well on integrity and motive.”

The Police had publicly apologized for the incident saying procedures are now in place to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future. This includes the prior approval by Police Management before anyone is locked up by police.

Four police officers have been suspended and will appear before the Police Standards Tribunal 28 October to answer charges in relation to the incident.

The father has been charged for driving an unlicensed vehicle and was caught several times by police and led to being locked up when caught once again and this time he was with his son in the unlicensed vehicle.