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Child street vendors on the increase in Samoa

Thursday 10 December 2015 | Published in Regional

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APIA – Child street vendors as young as six years old are selling goods on the streets of Samoa sometimes from the early hours of the morning until late at night.

This is just one of the findings from survey conducted last year in Samoa by the International Labour Organisation.

The researchers questioned over a hundred children, aged between 6 and 17 years old, who were all working as street vendors in the Capital, Apia.

Some of the children surveyed were used by local retail businesses to sell their products on the streets while other children were seen merely scavenging on the streets.

The children surveyed were working long hours and late, some from morning right up until midnight, while others worked in the evenings from 5.00pm until late.

Tili Afamasaga is the President of the Samoa Workers’ Congress and the chairperson of the Child Labour Working Committee.

She says despite measures to combat the problem, there’s been no improvement.

“The worrying thing for us is that it’s increasing. And we see it, it’s becoming more and more obvious. In spite of the legislation. Particularly the Compulsory Education Act.”

The Human Rights Attorney for the Ombudsman’s office, Loukinikini Vili, says the problem is lax enforcement of the Compulsory Education Act.

“The Act regulates the employment of school aged children. It clearly provides that compulsory school aged children are not to engage in street trading or any other work of any kind during school hours. It is the enforcement of measures in place under the Act that we feel is weak.”

Afamasaga says increasing poverty in Samoa is to blame.

“You know there’s evidence of poverty and child vendoring is an indicator of that. It cannot be denied that that is an indicator.

“There are parents who choose to ignore the legislation and the main reason for that, which they give when the authorities catch up with them and they are interviewed, is the fact that they are desperate.

“They don’t have decent work and they are desperate in terms of livelihood.”

The ILO is recommending Samoa amend its laws to help tackle the issue.

Members of Samoa’s Child Labour Working Committee want to get a clause inserted into the Labour Employment Relations Act which will prohibit children aged 16 years and under from working on the streets.

Afamasaga says there’s also a problem with the labour law, which protects workers’ rights only within the formal sector, and don’t include casual work like street vendoring.

“So the issue here of course is much bigger. It’s a very serious economic issue. But unfortunately it’s still a big debate here and the powers that be are not acknowledging that it exists in this country.

The ILO’s report of the survey on child street vendors is yet to be published in full.

- RNZI