The Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L) is investigating retailers who might be selling goods to young children, using them to re-sell these products on the streets of Apia.
This was confirmed by Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Selafi Purcell.
Lautafi who is also responsible for M.C.I.L. said the Labour and Employment Relations Act makes it clear that children under 15 should not be employed, except in safe and light work suited to his or her capacity.
“There is a law that penalises the employer if it does not meet the requirement of 15 years or younger,” the Minister told the Samoa Observer.
“But the problem is the M.C.I.L. cannot put their hands on this because these are not formal employment.”
The Minister said it is wrong for people to suggest the government is not doing anything about the issue.
“M.C.I.L. is doing its work by going through their normal inspections and looking into this, particularly if retailers are employing these young children to resell goods.”
The Minister said one of the problems is that the vendors are reluctant to reveal where they are getting the products.
“The parents too wont say who they buy from and if there is some form of arrangement with retailers that this is what they get if they sell this much,” said Lautafi.
“Because the children do not deal with the retailers it’s the parents that are buying from them and reselling these items at a little higher price to get profit.”
M.C.I.L. is working together with the Ministry of Women Community and Social Development, Ministry of Police, Education and I.L.O.
Under the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013, in section 51, Employment of children (1) a person must not employ a child under the age of 15 years of age in a place of employment except in safe and light work suited to his or her capacity, and subject to such conditions as may be determined by the C.E.O.
(2) A person must not employ a child under the age of 18 years on dangerous machinery or in any occupation or in any place under working conditions injurious or likely to be injurious to the
physical or moral health of such child.
(3) A person must not employ a child under the age of 15 years as an employee upon a vessel unless such vessel is under the personal charge of the parent or guardian of the child.
Lautafi said the amendment to the law(s) is needed to develop the legislation to give Police and other authorities powers to take the children home when they are out late at night.
He also blamed the current laws saying that there are laws but it is not being fully enforced.
But the issue with child vendors is not one that is confined to Samoa.
Lautafi used an example of students in countries like New Zealand finding work in taking the mail and newspapers after school and during holidays. He added that such activities are not necessarily a bad thing.
“Its not a bad thing but what has come out of selling of goods by the children being on the streets at night those are the issues that needs to be addressed,” he explained.
“Our children have been doing that for years selling coconuts and fish. What we are seeing now it’s been taken to a totally different commercial level that their presence is in the face of people and have become aggressive because of the competition that has created the problem.
“It was all the same idea of helping our families through chores and selling those things but this sub culture developed from selling goods where is what needs to be addressed.”
Lautafi is aware of the problem is not a quick fix that can be get rid of completely.
However, he made the point that what needs to be done is work in a way that is going to meet the needs of families that still need money and will not also deprive the children from their time in school and to study.
He said that selling goods is not a bad thing but it needs to be done properly in a way that children are safe and the activities do not become child labour.
“If you look at a flow chart of this and the focal point is the primary caregivers of the children,” said Lautafi.
“You can say parents are struggling and people will be satisfied with this much they will want more and parents are encouraging this environment to send out their children. I guess they use the children as a strategy that will get more turnover…we can push it around and blame this Ministry and that but it’s a national issue that needs a national solution. We all have a part to play.”