Poverty, a lack of access to health and education services and dwindling job opportunities are preventing Pacific youth from reaching their full potential. Failing to invest in their development will be costly to governments in the long run, says a new report from UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
Findings from The State of Pacific Youth Report 2011 are being released today to regional governments meeting at the Pacific Islands Forum. The report is being presented as part of the side event – Youth Matters NOW: Investing in Young People for a Secure, Prosperous and Sustainable Future.
Young Pacific Islanders (15-24 years) account for 20 percent of the region’s population but since the last State of Pacific Youth report in 2005 the challenges they face have become more critical. On average one in four live below national poverty lines. Education systems are failing youth by not equipping them with the right skills to transition to work; health services are not appropriate to their needs; and they feel isolated from political processes.
A large and rapidly expanding urban youth population together with few jobs, growing inequalities and government instability in some countries could even lead to social conflict and upheaval, the report states. Failing to invest in preparing youth for productive lives could even lead to a dependent young population engaging in crime and violence creating higher costs for governments and higher levels of insecurity in communities.
The report warns that without a major investment from Pacific Island governments, young people could falter as a generation which could undermine the capacity of Pacific Island countries to escape their dependence on aid, to develop economically and, in some cases, remain viable as societies.
Dr. Isiye Ndombi, UNICEF Pacific Representative, said “Young people account for one third of the adult working population in the Pacific, yet they are at risk of becoming a lost generation beset by a lack of opportunity.
“Young people have so much to contribute to their communities – they are the future of the Pacific. If Forum Leaders are serious about ‘converting potential to prosperity’, they need to start by investing in Pacific youth. This means giving them the opportunity to become better educated and healthier, and to create pathways to decent and meaningful work.
“They also need to listen to the voices of young people and encourage them to actively participate in decision-making that affects them in their social and economic development,” Dr Ndombi said.
The State of Pacific Youth 2011 report draws on a mix of official statistics and surveys as well as interviews with young people themselves. It proposes principles and strategies to guide governments, multi-lateral agencies and donors in policy development.
The report finds that young Pacific Islanders face different challenges in the transition to adulthood, and investment must be carefully targeted to those most in need of support. They include young people who have missed out on basic entitlements to education and health services, youth in special circumstances such as those living with disability or a life-threatening disease (such as HIV & AIDS), and youth who are educated but who are having difficulties finding work.
The report recommends governments and donor agencies improve the governance of youth issues, including developing youth employment strategies that meets the different needs youth, and strategies to lift learning outcomes, literacy levels and to encourage young people to remain in education. There needs to be greater regional co-ordination among governments and a scaling up of investment in youth-specific activities.
Data collection and analysis must also be improved. No Pacific country or regional agency reports regularly on a standard set of youth indicators, making it difficult to systematically track youth progress. Governments also need to mobilise resources for youth through setting up a youth challenge fund. The fund would call for proposals from governments, NGOs, churches and youth associations for projects to address issues highlighted in the report.
Dr Ndombi said, “We have an opportunity to make a difference for young Pacific Islanders and for the region, but it is an opportunity that could be lost if governments fail to make the right investments.”