Family Court Judge Tafaomalo Leilani Tuala-Warren awards the child’s custody to the Samoa Victim Support Group
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA: TUESDAY 30 SEPTEMBER 2014: The Family Court Judge Tafaomalo Leilani Tuala-Warren has awarded custody of a five year old girl to the Samoa Victim Samoa Group (SVSG) citing the girl’s mother Fetu Finau’s incompetence to raise her own child.
The parties to the case were SVSG representing the child and the child’s parents Fetu and Sofara Finau and Fetu’s uncle Asotasi Va’a Falealili.
The child was sexually abused by her uncle and was physically assaulted her stepfather.
In a Supreme Court case before Justice Vui Clarence Nelson last year, the child denied all indecent assault accusations against Va’a.
Later she told the police she was afraid to tell the truth because both her step father were both in Court.
The police out of concern for the child’s safety, took her to SVSG and explained the risk if the child was returned home.
The child’s grandfather Tavita and Va’a’s sisters all made affidavits against Va’a.
Their affidavits supported SVSG application for an interim custody of the child.
That custody battle ended today when Judge Tafaomalo awarded the interim custody of the child to SVSG.
All Respondents opposed SVSG application.
They claim the child’s grandfather and family and also Va’a’s sisters were feeding the child with lies.
The child’s grandfather Tavita and Va’a and his sisters are all cousins.
Judge Tafaomalo believed the child and she also believed that Va’a’s sisters did not conspire with the child’s grandfather against the Respondents.
“If anyone was coaching the child, it would be you (Respondent) telling the child not to say anything,” said Judge Tafaomalo.
Judge Tafaomalo made the order after perusing all factors of the case presented before her on the 20 August 2014.
The child’s name is suppressed.
A protection order for the benefits of the child is issued against all three Respondents.
The Court also made an additional condition in the protection order to protect and provide for the safety, health and wellbeing of the child.
“Fetu is allowed to visit her daughter twice a month at SVSG but the visits are to be supervised at all times by SVSG,” said judge Tafaomalo.
She also said times for the visits are to be approved by SVSG.
The order also bans the child from returning home to her parents and an interim custody and guardianship of the child now rests on SVSG.
“It is for the child’s best interests that she remains with SVSG as there has been physical and sexual abuse and intimidation against her by the Respondents Va’a and Sofara,” said Judge Tafaomalo.
The order also noted the insecurity of the environment the child’s mother Fetu lives which is not safe for the child.
The order will be reviewed again in three months and Judge Tafaomalo is asking SVSG to provide a written plan detailing the child’s transition to a home for life.
On 01 August 2014, SVSG sought an interim protection order on behalf of the child who was under their care from the child’s mother Fetu Tavita, her step father Sofara Finau and her mother’s uncle Asotasi Vaa Falealii all of Tanugamanono.
The complainant was living with her parents at Va’as house at the time of the incident where Va’a sexually assaulted the child.
The Court heard that the child’s stepfather coached the child not to tell anyone about the abuse.
There was also evidence that Sofara and Fetu knew about Va’a’s sexual assault on the child, but failed to report it.
Judge Tafaomalo said because Sofara and Fetu were both living under Va’a’s roof, they both tried to cover up the assaults.
During the hearing, Va’a’s sister Sefulu Hermann who lives in New Zealand found out about the assault on her young niece.
Because she knew of her brother’s history of sexual abuse, she contacted a police officer in NZ who told her to contact SVSG in Samoa.
In her evidence, she said Va’a had a history of sexually abusing family members.
“Our 15 year old niece had a baby to him as well as in own daughter who had four children to him,” said Ms. Hermann.
“Va’a was convicted in a California Court for the rape of his own daughter,” said Judge Tafaomalo.
Va’as other sister So’otuli Ulugia, who is a Counsellor supported Ms. Hermann’s testimonial pleading with the Court “not to release the child” to the Respondents.
“As a Counsellor I can say Va’a is a paedophile and the child needs to be protected,” said Ms. Ulugia.
In giving evidence, Va’a said the indecent assault case against him in the Supreme Court was dismissed.
He denied ever assaulting the child.
“This application has arisen as a result of his differences with his sisters and the child is caught in the middle,” said Va’a.
He admitted he was in prison in the US for 6 months and believed his imprisonment was not relevant to the current matter.
He said his sisters and cousins “fabricated” his bad reputation because they want to be the “matai” of their family and the sex offenders record were created by Sefulu or her children.
According to Judge Tafaomalo, Va’a’s evidence is a “blanket denial of everything we heard in Court today.”
In her findings, Judge Tafaomalo accepts Va’as sister’s concern of the risk on the child if she was to return home and decided to award interim custody to SVSG.
Outside Court, Va’a picked a fight with the media and his (Va’a) cousin’s intervened.