10 Sep 2013

Proposed human trafficking law in American Samoa draws reactions

4:29 pm on 10 September 2013

A new law in American Samoa has been introduced to the Fono to combat the growing problem of human trafficking.

Authorities say there are many cases of young girls from neighbouring Samoa being exploited.

But the law has attracted criticism, with some concerned it threatens customs, and other laws are already in place to punish crime.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Community groups in Pago-Pago say human trafficking has long been a problem, and people mostly turn a blind eye. Young girls are brought in for domestic chores, usually through family connections, and some end up being trafficked for prostitution. A senator for Manu'a, Galea'i Tu'ufuli, says the problem is driven by foreigners and citizens.

"GALEAI TUUFULI: Seems like most of the clientele are the Asian people in terms of the prostitution and drugs, and including forced labour, and the other part is our local nationals are involved in that too as they are the main sponsors of some of the Asians that we have here."

Fa'aalu Faletoese Iuli, the executive director of the Alliance Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says it's already too late if a problem needs to be addressed by the law.

FAAALU FALETOESE LULI: The responsibility sits squarely on the community to really start talking and it really shouldn't reach that point. We should be seeing it very clearly within the community that is very small. There are places along the way where we could be catching these forms of abuse.

She says safety houses must be created to protect people and provide a better way to report suspected crimes, but just talking about sexual violence is a good step.

FAAALU FALETOESE LULI: These matters ending up in court, is just the end product of what is really happening in the community, so none of us should be shocked, at all. We're celebrating an acknowledgment of a form of violence that really exists around the world, around the nation.

But another Senator, Nua Mailo Saoluaga, told Samoa News that he's concerned the law is too broad and the jails will be full of people who have not paid extended family for domestic work. But the deputy assistant attorney general, Mitzie Jessop, who gave the Fono an account of the victims she sees in her work, says there is more at stake, and the law will not affect cultural norms. The CEO of the Samoa Ministry of Labour, Auelua Samuelu Enari, says there are legitimate needs in many countries for foreign workers, and that should not be seen as the problem.

AUELUA SAMUELU ENARI: If American Samoan individuals or businesses want to bring in foreigners because of their specific needs, and to separate that from this violence issue. They need to be dealt with separately.

But Galea'i Tu'ufuli says the authorities have been dealing with issues separately, and trafficking needs to be defined by the law.

GALEAI TUUFULI: We need to have a specific law that deals with human trafficking. That way it's easier for the courts and the prosecutors to enforce the specific problems, because there's a whole slew of other problems that comes along with human trafficking.

Galea'i Tu'ufuli says the law should have even tougher penalties for those who fail to report trafficking cases.