19 May 2015
Discussions around service delivery for child protection systems took centre stage on the second day of the Pacific Conference to End Violence Against Children, currently underway in Fiji.
The human rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a strong foundation for preventing and addressing violence against children in all its forms.
Judge Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren highlighted the importance of cultural authority figures as part of the Family Court of Samoa’s holistic approach to dealing with issues such as violence against children and women.
“We have a Family Violence Court, and as far as I know there is no other court like it in the Pacific, which is a shame because this Court is where we are able to use the most useful aspects of our Pacific culture to address the issue of violence in our communities,” she said.
According to Tuala-Warren, the Family Violence Court is unique due to an intervention programme where cultural authority figures such as matai or pastors are introduced as part of therapy to heal and rehabilitate.
“These matai and pastors demand a lot of respect in Samoan communities – much more than the judge. “Their status holds more sway in the villages, so they play a crucial role in the success of this intervention programme,” said Judge Leilani.
She noted the significance of a ‘family approach’, emphasizing the importance of including extended family in intervention measures, as often the violence is committed from within these ranks.
Tuala-Warren also outlined advancements in Samoa’s Family Court system, guided by legislation that targets family safety and child protection.
“The most significant feature of the recent legislation, the Family Safety Act 2013, is the ability to grant family protection orders.
“To date, there have been approximately 100 orders granted, most of them with assistance from the Samoa Victim Support Group,” said Tafaoimalo, also pointing out that Samoa’s laws now allow that “a child can be granted a protection order”.
Partnerships between Government policy-makers and faith-based organisations was the key message from Rev James Bhagwan of the Methodist Church in Fiji, who called for a transformative approach to ending violence against children.
“There is a strong connection between a rights-based and scriptural-based approach, and the Church no longer wants to be the place you go to implement your programmes. We don’t want to just be the venue or the hall where you host your programmes. The Church wants to be a partner, to develop and work with families to tackle these issues,” said Rev Bhagwan.
The Reverend, who is also the Communications Secretary for Fiji’s Methodist faith, pointed to the proliferation of churches in almost every community, putting the clergy in a unique position to access a greater number of people in any community at any given time.
According to UNICEF, the true extent of violence against children is unknown. Samoa is the only country in the Pacific routinely collecting data on violence against children. A point that Judge Tuala-Warren underlined as one of the most important functions in the forward momentum of Samoa’s Family Court.
“We have a database. The information we’re collecting is very important for tracking our progress and establishing ‘who’ are the victims of violence, ‘what’ factors have contributed to their experience of violence, ‘where’ does the violence occur, ‘when’ are these instances occurring and ‘why’ do perpetrators commit these acts. We are hopeful that this database will help form policy and help inform judicial decisions,” she said.
Civil society organisations are playing a key role in service delivery for children with centers such as Samoa Victim Support Group’s House of Hope which provides shelter and support as well as linking children to other services such as justice and health.
President of Samoa Victim Support Group Mrs Lina Chang, acknowledged that her non-government organisation has been learning through trial and error, and has high hopes for a regional approach to ending violence against children and for the future of SVSG.
“Everything we do is about children. We are working to protect, but also to see that perpetrators of crime are prosecuted.
“We are non-government, therefore we have to find funding ourselves, and with Government’s gift of three acres of land, we have built our House of Hope and currently building the House of Dreams which is a home for young mothers who have been victims of incest,” said Lina.
Mrs Chang attributes the strength of her support group to the 700 plus voluntary village representatives who advocate SVSG’s message and promotes the use of the organisation’s help line across the country. She says that the awareness in rural villages has meant the line is kept busy.
Due to a backlog of cases before the courts, some young children are liable to stay with SVSG for up to three years before a case can be settled. Lina says that SVSG works hard to ensure that monitoring and evaluations are undertaken regularly on children and their families. Judge Tafaoimalo also noted that the Family Court regularly draws in SVSG to discuss and update on children who have been in the system for too long, as the priority is not to leave them in temporary care for extended periods of time, but to ultimately find a safe home for them to live in permanently.
Globally, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), has been signed by 194 countries including all Pacific Island nations, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.