Pic: Facebook Govt of Samoa

‘Overseas Samoans.’ Those are two words that we have become more and more accustomed to hearing lately from the Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

They are those critters that live outside of Samoa. The ‘traitors’ who left Samoa for a better life. The ones that can’t vote in the Samoa elections because matters in Samoa are ‘none of our business’ even though many of our immediate family members still live there. The ones that submit remittances that make up twenty percent of Samoa’s GDP – remittances that have Samoan citizens queuing outside Western Union in large numbers on a Saturday morning. We are the ones that he detests. Like an ugly disease.

Last week, the Samoa PM announced that the government will be tightening the rules around the adoptions of Samoa minors by their overseas relatives after allegations had surfaced that children were being exploited by their family members in their new adopted homes.

I had to raise an eyebrow. Yes, child exploitation is a serious crime and by all means any hint of exploitation should be thoroughly investigated.

If there is child exploitation that is.

Now is the time for discernment. Child exploitation versus asking your kids to do some extra chores around the house? Where do good adoptive parents draw the line?

This is definitely a case of a few bad apples ruining it for the hundreds of genuine loving families who have adopted young relatives from Samoa and have done such a good job at it.

I am the epitome of that annoying ‘Overseas Samoan’ that the PM illustrates. A writer, opinionated, fia poko. Oh and female. Even this article would be seen as Criminal Libelish. I am well aware that right-wing Samoa will read this column and scoff, ‘Oh what does she know?’

Well the thing about living overseas is that I know a lot. And I’ve seen this issue first hand.

With all due respect to the PM, and I do respect him. I will be a devil’s advocate here and speak on behalf of many good adoptive families who strongly oppose to being painted with the same brush.

When I speak of adopted ‘children’, I refer mostly to adopted teenagers and young adults because they represent a large part, if not more, of those who are adopted from Samoa, compared to their younger counterparts. I guess it’s safe to say that the younger the child that is being adopted, the more easier it is for them to adapt to their new home, making it easier to raise them.

The adoptive parents I chat with recall their own experiences. Like the thousands of dollars invested into bringing their young family members from Samoa ‘for a better life’. The children, now adults have flourished, in one’s case.

An adopted niece who ran away with her boyfriend, returned home and ran away again because she didn’t like being told what to do, was another.

But an awful two-hour NZ police interrogation that one husband and wife had to endure because their adopted teen from Samoa learnt that if you didn’t get your way at home, then you could always cry wolf and go to the police instead. Thankfully no charges were laid because the police said they had more important things to do than take in two good parents.

That particular incident left these parents very distressed. Even though they had the best intentions for her, they thought it was best to send her back to Samoa. Maimau le alofa.

Tuilaepa’s announcement left me a bit confused and baffled.

Samoa’s most vulnerable and underprivileged children, victims of sexual and physical abused who are housed by the Samoa Victim Support, an organisation not funded by the Samoa Government| SVSG

Firstly, the Samoa Government doesn’t fund the nation’s most vulnerable and unprivileged young citizens, like those sheltered by the Samoa Victim Support Group – an organisation that receives zero funding.

Heck the Canadian Government is doing more for SVSG.

Then there’s the issue of child vendors who roam the streets of Samoa because their parents cannot afford to send them to school. If the welfare of children in Samoa is a priority, then education should really be free, to ensure a prosperous Samoa. The funds used to build that pointless airport in Tiave’a should be allocated this way.

So why is there a sudden interest in protecting the children of Samoa from these ‘Overseas Samoans’ who care enough to take their younger relatives under their wing and raise them as their own?

What also stood out to me when reading the press release is that the call for these new measures was prompted by hearsay.

The PM openly admits in the announcement that he had been informed of instances of unethical child adoptions. Which made me think that he is basing his views on a few bad cases and not the multitude of overseas perspectives, many positive, that far surpass.

Was any effort made to get a balanced view on this issue and to try and gain more insight by talking to other adoptive families? Or did the office gossip suffice? The PM has always expressed his ‘displeasure’ at Overseas Samoans. I wonder if honing in on that displeasure could be part of a bigger strategy to serve political agendas. Who knows?

And as for the allegations that some adoptive parents are ‘leeching’ off Government benefits in those countries, consider this. With the rising costs of living in both New Zealand and Australia, wouldn’t any expanding family do what they can to receive a little more family assistance? It is extra money that they as hardworking taxpayers and citizens of those countries are quite rightfully ‘entitled’ to.

Most adoptive parents overseas do actually work full-time. Any adoptive parents solely bludging off Government benefits can’t afford to adopt anyway. So what families does the PM speak of?

If the PM is really genuine about cracking down on the few cases of child exploitation, by all means, he has my support. But it’s not fair to penalize good adoptive parents who genuinely want the best for their new additions.

I can’t help but think that this is a ploy to make us Overseas Samoans look even more like the nuisances that we are.

I’ll always respect the PM even though he sometimes leaves me scratching my head.

To challenge his views is not only harmless. It’s healthy.

Let’s agree to disagree: How about you look after the kids in your own backyard and we’ll look after ours?

Editor Lia Sagote 

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