Financial problems are responsible for a growing number of children ending up on the streets of Apia instead of going to school. Some of these children beg, sell drugs and some face the risk of being engaged in commercial sexual exploitation. That's the conclusion drawn by the Report of the Rapid Assessment of Children Working on the Streets in Apia, Samoa: A Pilot Study. The report was compiled by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor (M.C.I.L.) with the International Labor Organization (I.L.O.).
"There are many factors that lead to children entering the world of work," the report reads. "However, the research has found that a significant number of street children faced financial problems and difficulties that pushed them to work on the street. Most of the children were able to get work through their parents or through their friends and other children living in the same community." According to the report, children working on the streets of Apia are clearly visible.
"Children as young as seven can be seen selling with an adult and in many cases it is their mother or relative that oversees them," the report reads. "A number of children have never been to school while a good number are drop outs. Majority of these children live with their parents (or at least one of them) and live in both rural and urban settlements.
"The youngest child interviewed while working on the street was a seven year old and is currently not attending school. "Although the majority of the children knew how to write their name and read a simple sentence, this is no guarantee that this level of literacy is sufficient for any child in attaining decent work in the future."
The study interviewed more than a hundred child vendors. The assessment was commissioned by the International Labor Organization in response to concerns raised during the National Child Labor and Trafficking Forum in Apia in July 2014 where the lack of data and information on child labor in Samoa was identified. "A total of 41 or 38.8% working children were below the minimum age of employment which is 15 years old," the report says.
"Although most of these children below 15 years old interviewed were males, the two youngest children interviews were 7 years old girls, 21 of the children interviewed were between the ages 7 to 12 years old, below the age of light work. "A total of 6 of the children interviewed indicated that they lived on the streets of Apia and were aged between 13 to 17 years.
"Of the children who stated that they lived on the streets, two of the children lived on the streets with friends during the weekdays to sell their products and went back home in the weekends while four other children stated that they live and sleep on the street with other homeless children and people. "Sometimes with friends and one said sometimes with the strangers she met on the street."
Most of the children came from large families. "Many of children working on the street live in large family units (79 children or 74.5%) having 4 to 9 family members and 22 or 22.6% of the children working on the streets stated that they have no family member working.
"And 43 or 40.6% of the children stated there is only one member of the family working to support the family and this can be a major push factor for children to assist the family to earn an income." The report also showed that the lack of financial means sees many of them drop out of school. "72.7% stated that the family did not have enough money to send them to school causing them to drop out and work.
"For the 66 children working on the street who had stopped going to school, 22 children or 39.5% stated that they had reached Class 7 to 8 level of education and 23 children or 34.8% had reached Form 3 and 4 level when they dropped out of school. "The transition stage from primary or intermediate to secondary level education seemed to be the stage where most children dropped out of the school system."
According to the study, a holistic approach is needed to assist out of school children get back into formal education. "Although there are mechanisms and structures in place, there must be a concerted effort made by all stakeholders to ensure that there are being enforced and implemented and gaps in the system are being identified addressed strategically to fully utilize available resources.
The report was officially launched by the Minister of M.C.I.L., Lautafi Fio Purcell. The recommendations include:
- Improving monitoring and enforcement of the laws and providing efficient and clear systems and defined processed between stakeholders.
- Raising the age group for compulsory education and improving on the monitoring of compulsory education.
- Improving collaboration and coordination to address the issues of children out of school and children working on the streets as vendors.
- Supporting free education for all children to access full primary and three years of secondary education in policy and practice.
- Conducting public awareness campaigns on child labor issues and legislation
- Conducting parenting education programmes, skills training and literacy and numeracy classes for parents and promoting the value of education for all.
- Improving labor regulations for street children in labor.
- Conducting a more comprehensive national survey on child labor in
- Clarifying the definition of child labor in the Samoan context
- Providing alternative livelihood options for parents and address the broader issue of poverty and youth unemployment which contribute to children beginning work at an early age.
The writer is a Journalist at The SamoaObserver www.samoaobserver.ws
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