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Lawmaker says Human Trafficking Bill may run counter to Fa'a Samoa

Sen. Nua Saoluaga has raised concerns over the effect a human trafficking bill will have on the fa’aSamoa, or Samoan culture, if it’s enacted into law, saying that 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. 


The Manu’a lawmaker raised the fa’aSamoa issue during Tuesday’s Senate Judicial Committee hearing on the bill, which was unanimously approved yesterday by the Senate in third and final reaching. The bill now goes to the House, which has an identical version of the same bill pending in committee.


Nua, who voted yesterday in support of the bill, said during the committee hearing that if this measure is enacted into law, it would quickly overfill the only jail on island, because many people will be charged with human trafficking for not paying workers for projects that a family chief, or matai, wants the entire-family to commit their time to.


In the fa’aSamoa, or Samoan culture, he says, the family tautua, or serve, the matai and when the chief calls the family to carry out work for projects such as building a home, cleaning the plantation or other work for the family, everyone contributes.


But under this bill, people would end up filing lawsuits for not getting paid for the work they do, he said, and asked Attorney General Afoa Moega Lutu for his take on this issue.


Afoa responded that filing a lawsuit is a person’s right and it’s also the right of the person being sued to provide a response. He also says the Samoan culture is very important and American Samoans cannot ignore it but if people misuse it, then that is not the Samoan culture.


He said any case presented to his office is thoroughly reviewed on its merits before taking any legal action in court.


Deputy attorney general for the criminal division Mitzie Jessop added, “Our goal is not to attack our fa’aSamoa. We love our culture [and] our culture is based on respect for each other, and for the matai. These cases, when they come to us, we review them on a case by case basis.”


In the Samoan culture people “are not paid by money” but the person who provides service or tautua is paid by the matai with food and a home.


“And these are some of the things that we look at when cases are brought to the Attorney General’s Office on whether or not charges should be filed,” she said.


She agrees with Afoa that “we have a beautiful culture and it's based on mutual respect with people helping each other. The goal of this [proposed] law is not to target our fa’asamoa, our matai system or family,”she said.


The bill targets those who turn people into slaves, she said, adding that the majority of cases of human trafficking seen so far are females from Samoa and the perpetrators, who are sponsoring these individuals, are U.S. nationals living in the territory.