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Report confirms poverty in Samoa

One in every five Samoans lives in poverty.

That is one of the issues identified by the first State of Human Rights Report for Samoa officially launched Monday. The report was compiled by the Office of the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).

During a gathering in Apia, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi commended the report.

He also called for the formation of a Parliamentary Committee to follow up on the report’s recommendations.

The recommendations cover a wide scope of vulnerable members of the population such as women, children, people with disabilities and prisoners.

The report also delves into community health, sanitation, climate change, religion, mental health, freedom of speech among other issues.

Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, said it is vital to ensure that human rights are protected everyday for everyone in Samoa.

“Human rights are not merely foreign ideals as many wish to see them, but they have roots within Samoan culture also,” Maiava said.

“A take home point from this Report is that the weaving together of Fa’asamoa and human rights principles will make a stronger and more harmonious society. In that way, this Report truly is “for Samoa, by Samoa.”

Poverty reduction is among many human rights-related issues the report delves into. And the report’s findings are alarming.

“Despite progress in big picture economic growth and within high level development framework, there is disparity in development outcomes particularly in rural and remote areas,” a copy of the report obtained by the Samoa Observer reads. “Approximately 20per cent of Samoa’s population lives below the basic needs poverty line, with the higher proportion of rural populations falling below the BNPL.

Basically, this means that about 1 in every 5 Samoans lives in poverty.”

According to the Human Rights Committee under ICESCR, “poverty can be defined as a human condition categorised by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.

“Economic freedom is especially tied to the reduction of poverty because when people can earn a living, it reduces poverty and improves the quality of life for all.”

The report identifies that the issue of poverty reduction is a multi-dimensional problem that cannot be fully dissected within the context of a single report and the NHRI is not capable to address such a complex issue alone.

“Therefore, this section will focus solely on the main issue identified from the Survey that relates to poverty:

reducing the cost of living,” the report reads.

“Based on consultations and research, the NHRI believes that in order to reduce the cost of living Samoa must:

(1) Increase employment opportunities, particularly for the youth,

(2) Increase community development, and

(3) mitigate cultural and religious financial obligations.

It is worth noting that Samoa graduated from a ‘least developed country’ (LDC) status to developing country status, which shows positive progress towards the eradication of poverty. Further, UNDP has Samoa on track to meet MDG 1 of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty.”

The report highlights the need to increase employment opportunities.

“The right to an adequate standard of living is enshrined in Article 25 of UDHR as well as Article 11 of ICESCR.

Fulfilment of this right depends on a number of other economic, social and cultural rights, most importantly for the purposes of this section—the right to work. According to SPC, 41.3% of Samoans are in the workforce, yet the unemployment rate is only 5.1%."

“This likely reflects the high level of informal employment that exists in Samoa as approximately two-thirds of the population is dependent on agriculture for food and livelihood."

“It is positive that a large majority of people are actively engaged in livelihood activities; however it ties poverty strongly to agricultural performance. This can deprive many families of sustainable, stable livelihoods and prevent them from meeting their basic needs in an increasingly monetised society."

“Further, there is a particular lack of formal employment and other opportunities for school leavers and youth, with 16% youth unemployment in 2011, an issue which will persist, noting the proportion of Samoa’s population under 19.”

The report also looks at ways to mitigate cultural and religious financial obligations, which are major contributors to hardship and poverty in Samoa.

“From a cultural perspective, Samoa must be commended for its strong sense of community, which often acts as a safety net for the vulnerable members of society,” the report reads.

“However, survey participants noted the cost and burden fa’alavelave (traditional obligations) and church contributions can place on families. This is an issue that also relates to students withdrawing from tertiary studies due to inability to meet costs."

“When misunderstood or misused these important cultural norms can unfortunately inhibit the ability of Samoan families to escape poverty. It is important that these cultural obligations are respected and valued; while at the same time should take into consideration the needs of vulnerable families who simply cannot afford to uphold these obligations.”

Among the recommendations in the report is one for the village councils and churches to consider alternative ways to minimise cultural and religious financial obligations, particularly for financially vulnerable community members.

Overall, the NHRI admits that the human rights issues identified in the Report present challenges for Samoa to overcome.

“The Government has taken a number of progressive legal and policy initiatives to address these issues,” the report concludes.

“However, inadequate implementation of these measures due to insufficient resources, the need to dispel misconceptions around human rights, and the lack of concerted efforts to collect meaningfully disaggregated data continue to act as an obstacle to the progressive realisation of human rights, especially for Samoa’s most vulnerable."

“This Report has attempted to highlight existing gaps between the recognition of human rights in the country and their implementation."

“The Report has also attempted to illustrate human rights issues within the Samoa context in order to educate and encourage acceptance of human rights with Samoans."

“The NHRI hopes that the recommendations provided will serve as a catalyst for change and that the second cycle of the UPR will highlight the need for more actions on the part of Samoa to meet its human rights obligations.
Source: PAC News

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