World Population Day: Pacific must invest in huge youth demographic | Pacific Beat

World Population Day: Pacific must invest in huge youth demographic

World Population Day: Pacific must invest in huge youth demographic

Updated 11 July 2014, 11:11 AEST

Up to 20 per cent of the population in most Pacific nations are in the 18 to 24 age group and they are increasingly looking to government to help secure a prosperous future for themselves.

The UN Population Fund says adolescents and youth are central to the Pacific development agenda in the coming two decades.

It's World Population Day - and so there's no better time to look in detail at some very different population issues facing the Pacific.

Dr Laurent Zessler, the head of the United Nations Population Fund in the Pacific, says investing in young people is critical.

Presenter: Catherine Graue

Speaker: Dr Laurent Zessler, head, UN Population Fund in the Pacific

ZESSLER: We have, you know, different phenomena, I mean one we have rapid growth population in Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, which are related to a high fertility rate and also we see for this country little opportunities for migration.
On the otherside, we have depopulation in Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Federated State of Micronesia, so, and also we've, in this case, limited opportunity for migration and low growth rate and so we have this different situation, depopulation on one side and over-population on one side, but the main thing is we have a very high proportion of young population in the Pacific, which is due to the high fertility rate in the past. So we want to put very much emphasis on the importance in investing in young people. This is essential.
GRAUE: And what sort of investment is required, you've mentioned that we have such a huge teenage youth population. They are in turn also pro-creating and there's an issue with teen pregnancies in many countries. So it would seem that the issue is just ever evolving?
ZESSLER: Yes, absolutely. I mean what we are saying is we are saying that the young people should be at the centre of the development plans or development frameworks. We have issues that it's important to invest in the young people, we want to for services that are provided to young people to be more available, more youth-friendly, we want some issue that relative to teenage pregnancy, you mentioned that. We have unfortunately, in some countries, very high rates of teenage pregnancy, so how do you tackle that? Do you tackle that with what we call comprehensive sexual education in school and in colleges and so on and also what we're saying is it's important that you, the young people are part of the decision making process and we see, of course, in the Pacific now, young people are voting and young people should be consulted, should be part of the overall decision making process. So it's important that and we want to emphasis this today on the World Population Day, as UNPF - United Nations Population Fund, that it's the right investment, it's a useful investment, because if you invest in the young people, you can really have a better development framework, because they participate.
GRAUE: There have been calls today and at other times in the past that governments in the Pacific really need to urgently invest in sexual and reproductive health. As you've mentioned, we've discussed the high rates of teenage pregnancy. Are governments doing that, are they committed to that enough? We've seen in the past, a lot of aid money directed at things like family planning, but it would seem, the statistics show us with little affect. Do we need to change the way that we are tackling the issues?
ZESSLER: Well, yeah, you're right. There is investment in family planning and sometimes with success and sometimes with a slow progress. I mean the real situation we're facing is to involve all of the community. When you are sometimes in a remote Pacific Island territory or country, you have to make sure that the community, that the men, the young couples, and the young woman, participation in having information. Access to contraceptive is an issue but we are tackling that in most of the countries, so it is very much to have the right message, targeting young persons and saying that we have to have a right size family, I mean regardless of all the consideration, in order to ensure prosperity for their families, because that's very important.
GRAUE: And you mentioned the issues of depopulation in countries like the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, where many of the young people, because, particularly in Cook Islands, they have the automatic right to live in New Zealand, meaning that they're, the young people are flowing out and heading out of the country. How do you put a stop to that?
ZESSLER: Well, we have discussed with the government of the Cook Islands and the other government where this is taking place. Really the solution is to find decent jobs, I mean decent jobs in the country itself, so that implies to invest for example in the Cook Islands, investment in the tourist industry, investment in service industry that could generate more income. And sometime also they look for a better education opportunities, I mean so that's also a criteria. So we feel that it's time that, otherwise that some of these small islands, say in the Cook Islands, you have the Northern Territory, the Southern Territory, and people tend to move out. So it's important that the government and the government of Cook Islands is aware of that and is trying to address that. And this is also part of the political debate. The encouraging thing is we see more and more parliamentarians from the Pacific Island countries to establish committees on population and development, so they're becoming aware. So it's not only from the executive side, but also from the parliamentarian side. They are getting more involved, because they aware that they are facing this situation.

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