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Minister fights for “vulnerable” women, children

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The Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, is adamant. She says the country needs a Family Court to deal specifically with the issue of family violence, among other family-related matters.

“You have asked the question of whether there are enough cases to warrant the set up of such a Court,” Fiame said. “The answer is yes. There are more than enough.

“The existence of the Family Safety Act is testament to the increasing number of cases involving violence and abuse against women and children. This is also why the government is pushing this legislation.”

The Minister was speaking in Parliament yesterday during the second reading of the Family Court Bill 2013. The bill proposes the establishment of a Family Court, among other things.

According to Fiame, the law as it stands, especially in relation to cases of abuse against women and children heavily favours the perpetrators because of the notion that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.

“That placed protection of the offenders first instead of the victims,” Fiame said.

“This Court will be part of a body of work" with a specific focus on issues in relation to families. Minister Fiame believes strong families hold the key to a prosperous nation. She told Parliament that for many years, there has been a belief that the law should not touch differences within families.

This, she said, has been detrimental for “vulnerable” women and children who are subject to abuse and violence on a daily basis. Now, there is a “new international trend” to set up courts that deal specifically with family violence and family issues.

“The idea is to protect the vulnerable,” she said. Fa’asaleleaga No. 2 M.P, Papali’i Taeu Masipau, welcomed the new law. But he reminded Parliament that issues pertaining to land and titles are far more important to Samoans and that’s where the focus should be.

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He said there is a backlog of about 500 cases at the Land and Titles Court and he believes the Ministry should address that first. FalealupoM.P.,AeauPeniaminaLeavai supported Papali’i.

He said there have been several cases where “our parents have passed on” while cases involving issues of titles and land, which are precious to them, remain unsolved by the Court.

“In my opinion, the priority should be given to Land and Titles cases,” he said.

“The issues there are of paramount importance to all Samoans.” At this point, Fiame objected.

She reminded the House that the bill being debated is that for the Family Court. Turning her attention to Aeau, she told the veteran M.P. that he would be free to express his opinion about the Land and Titles Court when a bill about it is tabled. “But try and stay close to the middle of the road,” she said.

“We are talking about the Family Court.” Speaker of Parliament, La’auli Leuatea Polata’ivao, joined the debate, saying to Aeau: “Family first, land and titles later.” Faleata West M.P., Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, said that while the bill is valuable, the focus was wrong. He told Parliament that as leaders of the country, they should be more concerned about street vendors and child labour.

The M.P. spoke about his experience on a recent Saturday where he and some friends were harassed by street vendors begging for money. “When we were at the S.N.P.F. plaza, at least ten street vendors approached us there,” he said.

“When we moved to the Marina at Matautu, another six kids approached us. In my opinion, this is what we should focus on. We should look at the issue of child labour. “The problem for us is that we’ve got too many laws but the implementation is lacking.”

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, immediately took the floor asking Leala to reconfirm the day he went with his friends. Told it was Saturday, the Prime Minister said there was nothing wrong with what the children were doing. At least they were making good use of their time, he said, as opposed to Leala whom he said spends too much time loafing around.

Fa’asaleleaga No. 1 M.P., Gatoloaifaana Amataga Gidlow said families are extremely important since this is the source of blessings. In support of the bill, she, however, highlighted the need to follow up on decisions by the Family Court to ensure they are respected and effective.

Falelatai and Samatau M.P.,TaefuLemi,who is also the Associate Minister of Justice, said the bill was long overdue. He said the Family Court should have been set up before the Oloamanu Detention Centre was established.

“But it’s better late than never and I want to thank the Minister for the initiative,” he said. Gagaemauga No2 M.P.,LevaopoloTalatonu, and Falealili M.P., Tusa Misi Tupuola both supported the bill but asked about the possibility of reviving the Circuit Court.

They also wondered if the service would be extended to Savai’i. In response, Fiame said the Court will reach Savai’i but the mention of the Circuit Court reminded her of the “Back to the Future” movie.

As for Gatoloa’i’s advice about following up on decisions, she assured that this would be done but “it’s going to be a very big challenge.”

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