Victim's advocate: Does culture promote holding workers in bondage?
“The question is — does our culture promote holding our workers or family members against their will in slavery and sexual bondage? Is the bringing in, or use of our children for sex trade, pornography or domestic violence part of our culture?
These were the questions posed by outspoken victim’s advocate Ipu Avegalio Lefiti following comments made by Senator Nua Saoluaga over the effect a human trafficking bill may have on the fa’aSamoa, or Samoan culture.
The Senator said during the hearing for this proposed bill “... such legislation, if enacted into law, will overcrowd the jail with violators of this measure because people will be charged with human trafficking for failing to pay family members doing projects directed by a family chief. “
Lefiti, who’s also Vice Chair of the Multi Disciplinary Task Force, told Samoa News that she's surprised by the comments made by senator Nua in voicing his concern of the impact that the Human Trafficking law will have on the Samoan culture. “It is to these venerable wise men that we look to in the passing of laws that protect our people from predators,” she said.
Lefiti told Samoa News that the question is: “Does our culture promote holding our workers or family members against their will in slavery and sexual bondage? And, “Is the bringing in or use of our children for sex trade, pornography or domestic violence part of our culture? Or is it the individual person/perpetrator that promotes and encourages such practices and hides behind his social standing or money?”
She then told Samoa News for the past 50 years, it has been no secret that many young ladies were brought to homes for domestic duties, to care for the elderly and infirm, or for child care.
“Many were impregnated by their sponsors or family members. The unfortunate person was quickly and silently returned back to Upolu or Savaii. The same goes for many businessmen and women, agents and family members who bring in and move around humans to be held for flesh trade.”
She went on to say that the fishing industry is a major source for fast cash in exchange for sex. “The struggling families with immigration issues are a perfect hunting ground for agents to exploit families or for families to exploit their own children for sex."
“Now we are hearing and seeing proof of grandfathers adopting their grand children and sexually abusing them. Then there are the allegations against two full adult brothers and the sexual abuse of the girls under their protection. Then of course there is the incident — and many more unreported that will surface eventually — with a local club on the east side.”
She then stated that it goes back to — “Will this law protect the offender or our children? It is our culture that believes "O teine o i oi mata a tama/ aiga" which is to say, "females are the light in their brothers or families eyes."
"Which part of the Samoan culture counters this proverbial saying?" she asked.
The MDT group is among the main supporters of the human trafficking law, and they have appealed to lawmakers to pass this law. Given the lack of local trafficking laws in the territory, MDT reached out to Timothy A. Riera, Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Honolulu Hawai’i, for information pertaining to federal regulations and their application to domestic service workers. The Hawaii EEOC covers these matters in American Samoa.
MDT is looking at hosting a second conference on Human Trafficking in a few months. The MDT group advocates for survivors of family violence and trafficking victims and is currently working with zero funding.
The Senate unanimously approved this bill in its third and final reaching and their version will now go before the House, who have an identical version of the same bill pending in committee.
It should be noted that Nua did vote in support of the bill despite his comments.
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