The Commission of Inquiry Into Family Violence has recommended a ban on corporal punishment and verbal abuse in homes to eliminate violence against children.
In their Report the Commission stated that nine out of 10 children in Samoa experience violence in their life time and that physical, harsh verbal discipline/ violence and sexual violence has reached epidemic levels.
Physical discipline/ violence is often extreme in nature, going way beyond what is ‘reasonable punishment’ under Samoan law.
It also noted that sexual abuse of children and incest levels have also reached epidemic proportions in Samoa.
The Inquiry pointed out that Samoa like many other countries in the world, has used physical discipline/ violence for generations as a common approach for raising children and that the overwhelming majority of Samoans believe physical violence/disciplines required teaching right from wrong and there are few calls for it to be banned.
They also found that some parents did not consider harsh verbal discipline/ violence as a form of violence.
“Some reasons for this may include the lack of understanding of what constitutes harsh verbal/ violence, or the consideration f it to be normal because of the way they were brought up.”
The Inquiry stated that “physical and harsh verbal discipline often occurred not because the child had done something wrong but because the parent was using that as an excuse to take their frustration out.”
The most common type of violence experienced by both boys and girls the Report says is emotional abuse. “ 43% of children reported experiencing emotional abuse, and 35% reported subject to both emotional and physical abuse, while 12% said they are subject to only physical abuse.”
Not included in these statistics is the type of emotional abuse against children which is the “ witnessing of violence within the family unit, towards one of their parents. The Inquiry heard stories of mothers being punched, stabbed and verbally abused as their children sat and watched, or sometimes pleaded for it to end. The Inquiry also heard as siblings watched in horror as their father struck their brother with a machete who then died in a heap in-front of them.”
The Report said most parents would not classify their approach to discipline as a violent one. “ However, no matter whether Samoan parents believe their methods of discipline( verbal or physical) to be violent, the evidence shows they are. Thus, we must consider why we continue to allow such disciplining methods in our society.”
Sexual abuse of children and incest is also epidemic the Report says.
“ According to senior members of the Judiciary, sexual abuse of children and incest has become an epidemic. It should come as no surprise given how common stories of sexual abuse and incest in Samoa in recent years. This was also confirmed by the stories of family members committing sexual violence often at the hands of those they should be able to trust the most.”
Other forms of sexual violence emerging in Samoa against children are prostitution ( where the victims are both boys and girls), and child pornography.
“ This concerning trend has been under-reported so far but was confirmed by other witnesses to the Inquiry, including those working in the media. Additionally, the Judiciary has started to come across cases of child prostitution and this was confirmed by Justice Vui.”
The Report also stated that cases of violence against children are rarely reported. “ Most children do not report their abuse and some who do are not believed or beaten into silence.”
Common inflictors of violence against children are fathers (48%) and mothers (31%), so it is little surprise that children are unable to raise concerns about the treatment they receive at the hands of their own parents, even without considering their potential lack of knowledge of how to do this or their physical capacity to do so.
The Inquiry has recommended for the government to remove Section 14 of the Infants Ordinance 1961 and to consult appropriately and gradually move to ban corporal punishment and harsh verbal punishment in homes.
It also recommends for the development of positive parenting programmes to be delivered by Village Family Safety Committees through Village Representatives, the churches and other suitable vehicles.
“Positive parenting is a broad approach to parenting that helps to foster a close loving bond between parent and child, based on communication and mutual respect, key principles of Fa’asamoa. It is more than just parenting without smacking and has three major components. Rules and consequences are laid out, discussed often and followed through; parents focus on helping children internalize discipline rather than obey orders based on fear of punishment, in order to develop self-discipline and parents use active listening to understand children’s thoughts. This allows parents to correct misunderstanding pr mistaken lines of logic.”
Re commendation are also made for parents’ awareness on the harmful impacts of corporal punishment and harsh verbal punishment and for the monitoring of rates of violence towards children and attitudes towards physical and harsh verbal discipline.