By Justice Vui Clarence J.Nelson
In the small Pacific island nation of Samoa, there is a shelter for young victims of violence and sexual abuse run by a non-Government organisation called the ‘Samoa Victim Support Group’.
It is modeled on similar groups around the world. The Group comprises primarily of volunteers and is funded by a number of good Samaritan donors and businesses both local and overseas as well as by bodies such as Rotary Club of Surfers Sunrise Australia, Australian Government, NZAid, various international organizations and the Governments of Japan and Turkey; as well as by public donations. The Government of Samoa is a major donor and supporter. The Group fills a vacuum in what should be available to such children in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Samoa has been a signatory for some 20 years. One such victim, a girl aged 18 years penned the following:
CHILDREN OF HOPE
I wish the world could see
Just how brave we are
And how talented we can be
Know how we change
Each and every day
Forgetting about our past
But desperately wanting to stay
I wish they would realize
How tough our life has been
The futures that have been ruined
And the violence we have seen
Look at our radiant smiles
And the difficulties we face
All the people our lives have touched
And all the changes we can make
Still we step onward
Unsure of where the road may lead
Hoping that they take notice
Hoping that they take heed
I hope the world notices
What Samoa has seen
That we children of hope are amazing
For we are striving to follow our dreams
Written by Trinity, ‘House of Hope,’ Samoa, 2013
I have chosen this particular piece because I believe it encapsulates the CRC and its journey. It captures the promise of young children, their potential, their courage, their resilience, their aspirations, their capacity to adapt to life’s changing circumstances and the sadness many of them have had to endure.
Trinity also delivers a message for the future. That notwithstanding the past, hope does spring eternal and these children are prepared to meet the challenges of the unknown that lie ahead. Would that we were able to dare such dreams. The poem is further a reminder of how far we have progressed and how far we have yet to travel.
Justice Vui Clarence J.Nelson is a Samoan national currently serving as a Sitting Judge of the Supreme Court of Samoa. He is a patron of Pacific Island Lawyers Human Rights Network and Mentor and Supporter of the Samoan Victim Support Group. Justice Vui has a track record of establishing the first Pacific based Young Offenders Act in 2007, followed by the Community Justice Act 2008. He also played a key role in helping set up the Olomanu Juvenile Centre, to house young people in conflict with the law which gave them the opportunity to upskill them on a trade for productive engagement, when they returned to their community. He continues to campaign actively for and assists the Juvenile Centre.
The seeds of the CRC were probably first germinated in Samoa by the late Tofilau Eti Alesana, Prime Minister when he attended the World Summit for Children in New York in 1990. The Summit brought together the largest ever gathering of heads of state and governments “to bring attention and promote commitment at the highest political level to goals and strategies for ensuring the survival protection and development of children as key elements in the socio-economic development of all countries and human society.” It followed adoption of the Convention by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989. The Summit set the stage for numerous high level conferences, gatherings and resolutions on issues relating to children in successive years. Efforts that were spearheaded by UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO and other affiliated bodies.
In Samoa the CRC took firm root. Resulting in its ratification by the people of Samoa through its Government on 29 November 1994. The Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development became the national focal point for the Convention and a CRC Steering Committee was established in 1995. A process of
legislative review was begun, studies were undertaken, policies were formulated and programmes and other measures were implemented aimed at ensuring the country complied with the spirit, intent and provisions of the Convention. On the judicial front, the highest court in the land proclaimed that “All Samoan courts should have regard to (the) Convention in cases within its scope”: per Lord Cooke of Thorndon delivering the Court of Appeal judgment in Attorney General v Maumasi  WSCA 1.
Not all these efforts have been timely or one-hundred percent successful. But such is the nature of the beast. UNICEF data indicates only around 38% of Samoan children are enrolled in pre-school, leaving many girls and boys inadequately prepared for primary school; Samoa’s under-five mortality rate is the third lowest in the region, at 18 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012; violence and abuse of children persists, perpetuated by traditional norms condoning physical discipline and linked to social problems such as rising poverty, youth unemployment and excessive alcohol consumption by males; and almost half of all women aged 15-49 years have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partners with rates of non-partner violence being even higher (65% among women in this age group).
We are living in an age where pornography is available at the touch of a button, leading to miscreant behaviour and in some cases, to serious criminal offending; where Police officers see nothing harmful in detaining a 3 year old in a police cell together with his arrested father; where children are being targeted and recruited by religious fanatics using social media; where young people are being brainwashed and trained to commit atrocities; where children are committing horrendous offences, sometimes on other children; where the rights guaranteed by the CRC are in danger of not merely erosion but extinction. These are the very things the CRC was designed to combat. A war is being fought on many fronts for the minds and souls of our children. In Samoa no less so than elsewhere.
Much work therefore remains to be done. Samoa’s Country Report on the Status on the Rights of the Child 2013 submitted to the CRC Committee in New York in 2014 highlights the many measures being taken nationally to continue implementation of the CRC. These include the first National Policy for Children 2010 – 2015, the recently completed ‘Talavou (Youth) Programme’ set up to inter alia support and finance national youth forums, rehabilitation work for young offenders and youth and livelihood skills programmes for adolescents. In partnership with UNICEF there has been instituted a Samoa Child Protection Plan, following on from the Ausaid funded Pacific Child Protection Programme, and consisting of annual work plans implementing a specifically designed Child Protection Programme for Samoa. Legislative initiatives and reform in the area of child care and protection include the Young Offenders Act 2007, the Community Justice Act 2008, the Family Court Act 2013, the Family Safety Act 2013 and the Child Care and Protection Bill 2014.
The CRC journey has not been smooth. And probably never will be. Whether in Samoa or elsewhere. While we should celebrate its 25 year existence, it remains a challenge of our time, its implementation perhaps the greatest moral imperative of our generation.
When contemplating the CRC, I am always reminded of the words of Robert Frost:
”The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”