Remarks by the Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor
Early Childhood Forum
“Implementing the Pasifika Call to Action on ECD”
23 October 2019
His Excellency, Teuea Toatu, Vice-President of the Republic of Kiribati,
The Honourable Inia Seruiratu, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Republic of Fiji,
Mr. Sheldon Yett, Representative, UNICEF Pacific,
Members of the Diplomatic Corp,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am pleased to be here with you all at this meeting which considers a crucially important aspect of the future of our Blue Pacific Continent – our people. Indeed, it is the children whose lives we will be discussing today who will inherit the future Blue Pacific, and it will be they who judge our efforts to secure their future.
Please allow me to thank UNICEF for convening this Forum on Early Childhood Development (ECD), and the Government of Fiji for hosting us all here today.
The Pacific Islands Forum has successfully forged a community of nations that work together on a range of shared challenges so all Pacific people can lead free, healthy and productive lives.
But today, on the cusp of the Forum’s 50th anniversary, our Blue Pacific region faces new challenges, none more pressing than the unprecedented threat of a climate change crisis and its impact on human development and security. Most concerning is that children and future generations will suffer its worst consequences.
Furthermore, our young people are confronted by what are being increasingly identified as non-traditional human security challenges. Improving access to early childhood development needs to be addressed within a complex environment where our children also need improved access to health including vaccine and hygiene services. Furthermore, our children need greater protection against abuse and exploitation. In this context, the future viability of our Blue Pacific is not guaranteed.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the tragic killing in Yap last week of the acting Attorney General. Reports that link her killing to human trafficking and the exploitation of children are chilling reminder of the threats which still exist in many countries in this region and are not being addressed.
In 2018 our Leaders recognized these increased challenges in the Boe Declaration on Regional Security which outlined an expanded concept of security inclusive of human security, humanitarian assistance, prioritizing environmental security, and regional cooperation in building resilience to disasters and climate change, including through regional cooperation and support.
Investing in Early Childhood Development
Experiences in the early years of a child’s life are crucial as they affect the development of the brain, the foundation for all future learning, behaviour and health.
Furthermore, evidence show that if a child does not receive adequate nutrition, stunting may occur, intellectual development may be impaired, they are more vulnerable to disease, tend to underperform in school, and are less likely to become productive adults.
The first Pacific quadrennial report on Sustainable Development including the sustainable development goals (SDGs) highlights the lack of data for us to get a full picture of stunting in the region.
In recognition of this, our Leaders at their annual meeting in 2018 in Nauru called for a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to addressing ECD, NCDs, stunting and childhood obesity.
This call emphasises the point that investment in early years demonstrate rates of return that are among the highest in public investment options, with benefits accruing to society in the form of higher incomes, better health, and lower crime rates.
The children of our Blue Pacific are our future, and they will face great challenges in their lifetimes due to the impacts of climate change, and non-traditional security challenges. The case for investing in early childhood development cannot be stressed enough – we must nurture and equip our children to be the best they can be – they deserve nothing less.
It was an emotional moment for me to be greeted upon arrival to the 50th Pacific Islands Forum in August by small children of Tuvalu – submerged in water surrounding a model of their sinking islands. Their message was clear – climate change is real, and the future of our children is extremely uncertain if we remain complacent.
We need to act now to reverse the negative impacts of climate change and other imminent development challenges, so they no longer threaten the development of our children and young people. We must work cohesively – as Pacific governments, civil society, and development partners – to find measures to address them.
Tremendous work has been undertaken so far on early childhood development, and this must be acknowledged. Also gratitude to partners who have worked alongside us to help ensure a secure and prosperous future for our children.
Sadly, though, across Pacific countries there are low investments in ECD. The challenge for us, as members of the Blue Pacific, is capitalizing on the resources that we do have and working together using a coherent and coordinated approach to build a secure and fulfilling future for our young people and those that come after them.
At their meeting in Tuvalu earlier this year, Forum Leaders endorsed the development of a 2050 Strategy for the future. The Strategy seeks to promote the spirit of working together as one ‘Continent’, now and into the future, in order to secure the viability of our region by 2050 and realise the Leaders vision for the Pacific. This is work in progress – investment in the health and security of our children must be a prominent feature of this Strategy.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I raise this high-level context simply to remind us all to consider the future world in which the children of today will be required to live, work and survive. Their development must prepare them for a very different world than the one we all inhabit now. I encourage us to keep this in mind for our deliberations at this Forum.
This Forum is designed to be a platform for significant south-south cooperation on ECD; for Pacific island countries and territories to share successes, challenges, and lessons learned in improving policies and services for young children and their families.
I thank you. Vinaka.