AgSG Fong Toy Address at launch of 'Urban Youth in the Pacific'

Address by Ms Andie Fong Toy, Acting Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
at the launch of the youth report Urban Youth in the Pacific
Thursday 2nd June 2011
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Suva

Your Excellencies
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Heads of Regional Organisations
Heads of UN and CSO Organisations
Distinguished Representatives
Ladies and Gentlemen

I welcome the launch of this important report as the Secretariat’s response to a request from the FRSC in 2008 to provide concrete guidance on policy and programming to address the increasing involvement of young people in crime and violence, especially in urban centres across the region. The report is the result of the ongoing effective partnership with the UNDP Pacific Centre together with the organizations that supported the project through the Advisory Committee, namely UNESCO, UNICEF, Pacific Youth Council, SPC, ILO, and UNFPA.

This year is the 40th Anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum and it is noteworthy for all of us to reflect on the fact that when it was founded back in 1971 as the South Pacific Forum many of today’s leaders were youth themselves. Given this, it is a timely moment for Leaders to consider how young people today can be better supported to prevent their involvement in crime and violence, and lead productive and responsible lives. This report provides numerous practical suggestions for leaders to give thought to and implement.

The Pacific Plan acknowledges the importance of young people. To give effect to their Vision through the Pacific Plan, leaders agreed “to promote and protect youth.” For sustainable development the Plan also recognizes the importance of “enhanced involvement of youth”, improving the “coordination of youth programmes” and greater emphasis on vocational training. For improving governance the inclusion of youth in participatory democracy and decision making is recommended. While these initiatives are aimed at the general development of the region, their proper implementation will also advance the situation of young people.

More recently, just last week the Secretary General confirmed that as a result of discussions with SPC Director General, Dr. Rogers, youth will be a key issue at the July CROP Heads meeting and it is hoped that it will also feature at the Forum Leaders meeting in September in Auckland.

This is welcome news. The specific findings and recommendations of this report to build resilience and reduce risk to crime and violence build upon the foundation of the Pacific Plan and will feed in to discussions at the CROP Heads meeting at a regional level. At a national level they provide governments as well as other stakeholders with solid information and practical recommendations to move forward in tackling this threat to human security in the region.

One aspect of the report that I am particularly pleased with is the fact that although the FRSC requested guidance on tackling the increased involvement of young people in crime and violence, the report also looks at the positive contributions that young people are making in their families, schools, communities and nations. Most young people in the region do play a positive role and are not involved in crime and violence. The report looks at the resilience factors in these young people’s lives and examines how they are able to steer away from involvement in crime and violence. Understanding these resilience factors are vital for preventing crime and violence in the long term and also to promote the rehabilitation of young people that are already in conflict with the law.

However, the report does not pull any punches in regard to the involvement of young people in crime and violence as a serious regional human security issue. Young people, although not leaders or necessarily instigators, were very much active in the Tensions in the Solomon Islands and the civil unrest in Nuku’alofa in 2006. They are active in both minor and serious crime. Inter-school fights and groups of young people involved in anti-social behaviour are a growing concern in Apia. Public safety is a major concern in urban centres such as Port Moresby largely due to the involvement of young people in crime and violence. In the North Pacific alcohol and other substance abuse is taking its toll on young people and leading to the commitment of crimes. And of course domestic and sexual based violence, with young people as perpetrators and victims, is a major human security concern across the region.

Fortunately, throughout the region the report shows that there are ongoing efforts to tackle these and other problems related to youth crime and violence, including examples of best practice in all six case study urban centres. For example in Nuku’alofa there is good cooperation between the Government justice sector and CSOs for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. In Port Moresby, the Yumi Lukautim Mosbi or YLM project is a great example of multi-agency cooperation to promote urban safety and reduce crime. In Majuro, the MIEPI project is providing solid quantitative data on substance abuse by young people thereby supporting effective policy and programming responses. In the Solomon Islands, the government has recently embarked on an ambitious and comprehensive new National Youth Policy. In Samoa, the Young Offenders Act provides a criminal justice system for young people in conflict with the law. Lastly in FSM SPC and UNFPA run a successful Youth-to-Youth in Health programme in Pohnpei which helps build resilience to crime and violence. Throughout the region the Pacific Youth Council and the National Youth Councils also do effective work despite being under-resourced.

Although there are these examples of best practice, they are not consistent and not given adequate support across the region. Demand for support services for youth far outweigh supply. As the report points out, gaps remain in terms of juvenile justice legislation, cooperation with CSOs and National Youth Councils, and effective rehabilitation and second chance programmes. The issue of criminal deportees in a number of urban centres is taken up in the report but currently there is inadequate support given to them to assist their reintegration into societies that many of them know little about. They have the potential to introduce a more sophisticated approach to crime to Pacific island countries if not given enough support. Samoa has recently established a charitable trust and in Nuku’alofa there are ongoing efforts to better coordinate initiatives by government, CSOs and faith based organizations. However more needs to be done. There is potential for greater regional coordination and cross learning to address all of these gaps but the political will and resources are needed.

In finishing my comments, I would like to thank the governments and other stakeholders in the case study countries. I understand that researchers were welcomed by all aspects of the government including the security and justice sector, education and social affairs, as well as civil society. Even though the researchers sometimes touched upon sensitive topics, respondents were open and forthcoming with information and opinions for which I express my appreciation. It is through the openness of all respondents throughout the region together with the hard work of the project team that that we have in our hands today such useful, timely and practical report.



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