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Remarks by SG Slade at UNICEF 2012 SOWC report launch

STATEMENT BY SECRETARY GENERAL TUILOMA NERONI SLADE

Launching of the UNICEF State of the World’s Children 2012 report

Wednesday 29 February 2012
Fale, Forum Secretariat

Your Excellencies
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished representatives of the CROP agencies
Representatives of the Civil Society Organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning and welcome to you all.

1. If and when you have had a chance to see this report, everyone in this fale will readily welcome the launching of this important accounting of the ‘State of the World’s Children 2012’ and its focus on ‘Children in an Urban World.’ So, for me, it is honour in double measure to be able to offer a few remarks for the occasion, and also at being invited by UNICEF to contribute an essay to the report, an opportunity I have grasped to bring attention to the plight of urban children in the Pacific.

2. The report is of particular significance for this region, for there are few places in the world where the issues of population growth with large numbers of young people, urbanisation, and increasing vulnerability to climate change and disasters all collide more starkly than in the Pacific.

3. Pacific island countries is home to about 2 million people; almost half being children below the age of 18. With youth between the age of 15 and 24 at around 20 percent, it is clear that we have a very young population in the Pacific islands. Furthermore, given that young people are more likely to move to urban centres for education, seeking employment and new opportunities, the bulk of young people in Pacific urban centres are even greater than the average.

4. In 1950 only 8.5 percent of Pacific islanders lived in urban centres. Today, it is almost a quarter of the population. Half of the region’s countries already have majority urban populations. Some urban areas in the Pacific such as Tarawa in Kiribati, and Majuro in Marshall Islands have extremely high population densities of up to 7,000 people per square kilometre.

5. Urbanisation has been brought about through a range of factors, including but not limited to: lack of job opportunities and services in rural areas; and more opportunities for young people for artistic expression; wider social networks; entertainment; forging new identities; and access to technology.

6. While urbanisation affects all members of our communities, it is clear that its manifold social, environmental and economic consequences significantly affect the lives of children and young people. And while young people will debate and contest the point, I think that often, socially and emotionally, they are the least able to cope. The recent statement by UNICEF released ahead of the launching of this report, suggests that not all children living in urban areas are benefiting from the economic expansion in urban areas. In my sense of the situation, this would be much the same experience for our Pacific children. This means that most of these children are now being left behind.

7. Last year we launched at the Forum Regional Security Committee meeting a study on Urban Youth in the Pacific with a focus on Increasing Resilience and Reducing Risk for Involvement in Crime and Violence. The study was conducted by the Forum Secretariat and the UNDP Pacific Centre, with cooperation from UNICEF, SPC, the Pacific Youth Council, UNFPA, ILO and UNESCO and documented a wide range of links between urbanisation and challenges facing young people. Perhaps not surprisingly, young people drawn from rural to urban areas were found to be at significant risk of involvement in crime and violence due to the lack of stabilising traditional structures, exposure to destructive influences and easier access to banned substances.

8. Urbanisation is also eroding the region’s long standing tradition of ‘subsistence affluence’. The Pacific land and the sea have long provided generations of Pacific peoples with shelter and sustenance. However, in urban areas, the link between people and the environment is weaker. People are more dependent on purchased commodities making them vulnerable to price fluctuations and unstable supply and, as we know, to severe health risks. The knock-on effects of these are felt as children are taken out of school, families cut back on food, and financial worries increase violence in the home. Pacific communities are grappling with new aspects of this urban poverty, including malnutrition, and youth unemployment, and all this is seriously affecting children. A recent study showed that one third of all children in one of our Forum member capitals live in serious poverty - a rate nearly 20 percent above the national average.

9. Improving the situation of children in Pacific urban areas will obviously have to be done as part of a broader urban development strategy. This may include creating greater incentives for rural populations, including young people, to remain in rural areas. In the report we are launching today I read with interest the call for greater involvement of children and youth in policy and practice and in partnerships between urban poor and Government. The enhanced involvement of young people in decision making, leadership, and communities is identified in the Pacific Plan under the sustainable development pillar as one of 13 strategic objectives.

10. As you will recall, the Forum Leaders Communiqué of their meeting in Auckland last year “acknowledged the need for greater action in mainstreaming youth issues nationally and regionally, increasing employment and other meaningful opportunities for youth, and including the voice of youth in decision making.” I believe that development that is meaningful for urban children and young people can only be realised through their effective involvement and hearing them.

11. Addressing the challenges presented by urbanisation in the Pacific with the input of children will have a positive impact on their well-being and, therefore, in the well-being of the broader community. It is also a long-term strategy that will come to fruition as children who have grown up in safe, healthy and nurturing environments grow into adults with the knowledge and skills needed to further progress development.

12. In closing I want to congratulate and thank UNICEF for this valuable study which I am sure will be an important resource for all of us working to improve the welfare of children in urban centres throughout the Pacific.

Thank you.

(Ends)

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