President of the Republic of Fiji


Tanoa Skylodge Hotel Thursday, 04 July, 2013
NADI 8.30A.M.

• The UNICEF Deputy Representative Ad Interim, Ms. Isabelle Austin
• Honourable Guests,
• Friends and Young People,
• Delegates
• Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning, ni sa bula vinaka, salam alaykum, namaste

I welcome you all to this important meeting. A special welcome to you delegates from other Pacific Island countries and a special welcome to the delegate from Grenada.

Thank you for inviting me to open this very important meeting for young people in the Pacific and more so for those in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). We have heard the saying many times that young people are the future leaders of tomorrow. This meeting should truly contribute to that desire and to an investment in the future.

You are gathered here as the youth leaders of today and the budding future leaders of tomorrow. Your voices, your thoughts, and your visions carry the weight of the thousands of youths that you represent.

You carry the great responsibility of representing your generation in setting the agenda for the generations to come.
Therefore, you have the responsibility to represent truthfully and respectfully the voice and vision of your peers. Let me put it very clearly to you so that there is no doubt. You have a tough assignment.

It has been nine years since the last youth gathering in Mauritius aimed at influencing the development agenda for the small island developing states.

29 youth leaders had gathered there from 12 small island developing states; 11 from the Pacific and one from the Caribbean region. They came from all walks of life: climate change activists, women’s rights leaders, youth employment champions, rural youth, urban youth, and seasoned youth leaders representing a good cross section of youth occupations and desires.

There is a similar group present today. You are here to envision the future together. And for you to take the responsibility to make that vision a reality.

I am certain the future you want is firstly, one of inclusive social development. By this I mean that you want to ensure the sustainable development of humanity in children, in youth and in women and in their empowerment to contribute meaningfully to the advancement of society at all levels of government and governance.

At present, inadequate or inaccessible child and maternal health care services like in the medical and educational fields, to name but two are issues that persist within our societies at unacceptable rates.

This significantly restricts the ability of families, communities and small island developing states to optimize their human resources in an efficient manner towards sustainable development.

Therefore to facilitate true, sustainable development post 2015, we need to ensure the empowerment of children, youth and women to design and implement local, national and regional strategies to improve education on health issues to which they are particularly vulnerable. Moreover, we need to secure commitments from governments and international bodies for technical, financial and other resources so as to provide adequate health care services.

Secondly, I am sure the future you want is one of inclusive economic development.
Research has proven that children, youth and women are the groups most vulnerable to the impacts of poverty and its impact on their quality of life is particularly acute. However, there has been no adequately comprehensive research to establish the qualitative and quantitative benefits they have received from the implementation of national and regional poverty reduction strategies.

Unless we can identify the existing gaps in this regard and share knowledge of best practices, the rates of children, youth and women living in poverty will remain at unacceptable levels.

It is, therefore, paramount to conduct not only studies and meetings but also to implement action plans and to partner with individuals and organisations that can make those action plans happen.

Thirdly, the future you want has to be in a sustainable environment. Young people in Small Island Developing States need employment opportunities in their local environment, so that the effects of challenges such as brain drain and limited human resource capacity are less and the quality of life for many families across Small Island Developing States would improve.

Presently, small island states struggle to maintain unemployment levels below 10%. The adverse consequences of this occurrence include brain drain and increased social ills, which in turn negatively affect the national economy.

Small Island Developing States must therefore, design national programs for the education and capacity building of children, youth and women on business planning and management within a properly defined timeline.

When children, youth and women are educated on climate change and committed to mitigating and adapting to it, the adverse effects such as sea level rise, irregular weather patterns, more frequent and intense natural disasters and food security issues will have less of an acute impact on our society, economy and culture.

Unless there is a change in the present status quo to a more pragmatic, qualitative and quantitative, science based approach to mitigate and adapt to climate change, Small Island Developing States will experience greater challenges in providing services, adequate food and a stable environment for their citizens due to the impacts of climate change.

In saying this, I believe that the Small Island Developing States will need a continuous focus on the empowerment of children, youth and women to enable all of you to contribute meaningfully to the global partnership to address climate change. And I must emphasize that the focus must not waiver.

Last but not the least; I envision a future you want that has a sound rule of law. In an environment that is free from violence and conflict, children, youth and women stand the greatest chance of reaching their full potential and contributing in a meaningful way to society and sustainable development.

At present, unfortunately, the number of children, youth and women who experience one or several forms of violence against them in their lifetime is staggering. It is of paramount importance that Small Island Developing States commit and take steps to facilitate a review of the status of development, legal enactment and the implementation of women’s/gender and youth policies at the national and regional levels.

This process should impart the development of strategic programs to address the gaps identified in the review, whilst sharing best practices and mobilizing resources for implementation.

To you the young men and women who are here this morning, in raising the issues of inclusive sustainable socio-economic development with you, I would also like to bring to your attention, and I am sure you will appreciate this new development, that Fiji with the support of many Pacific Island countries, will be hosting in early August the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum.

The Pacific Islands Development Forum is a new alliance of the public sector, private sector and civil society organisations in the Pacific region. The PIDF as it is called will progress the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or more popularly known as the Rio plus 20.

The Rio plus 20 Conference held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil exactly over a year ago agreed to pursue a future for the world under a green economy. This includes and I quote “the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for the planet and for present and future generations. It is to pursue the future we want.”

I am delighted to note that your meeting here this week is in many ways in true alignment to a global trend that is strongly supported by the United Nations. From Fiji’s context, I will highlight some developments that Fiji has already put in place and continue to refine in respect to facilitating the holistic development of issues concerning children, youth and women.

In terms of advancing children’s issues, the Fiji government in 2010 approved the Child Welfare Decree to strengthen the care, protection and the promotion of the welfare of children. This is in addition to the Family Law Act and other related legislations that promote the right of a child to life, to a decent upbringing and to education up to the highest level possible.

I note with appreciation that UNICEF is working closely with government in advocating for the promotion and awareness for the child protection policy in Fiji.

In terms of youth development, the Fijian government in 2012 also approved a National Youth Policy.

Subsequently, a multi sector taskforce has been established that comprises of government, civil society organisations and NGOS who are tasked to provide an advisory role in the implementation of the policy.

The policy promotes youth development in the following key strategic areas:

• Youth empowerment and livelihood opportunities;
• Leadership, good governance and human rights;
• Sports and recreation;
• Youth health;
• Life skills training;
• Vulnerable youths;
• Cultural and religious values and virtues; and
• Environment sustainability.

The Fijian government is also strengthening its support towards youths in Fiji through the National Youth Council which is being established within the Ministry of Youth and Sports with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme.

In addition and most importantly, you may have also heard that the Fijian government has reduced the voting age from 21 years to 18 years in its effort to provide youth with a stronger voice in how they want the nation to be governed.
In terms of furthering the interests of women, the Fijian government has for the first time in Fiji’s history appointed a goodwill ambassador for women.

Justice Nazhat Shameem now has the role of advocating for gender equality at every possible opportunity both here in Fiji and abroad. I am happy to note that one of Justice Shameem’s first engagements since her appointment early this year was to launch a mobile texting service called mwomen. This is a free text service for women which will advise them on their legal rights in relation to gender based violence.

Domestic violence and rape are two of the most under reported crimes in any country, and the service is designed to encourage reporting. The legal advisers who will provide advice will be required to be familiar with the Domestic Violence Decree, the Crimes Decree and the Child Welfare Decree, and must have received gender competence training.

The Fijian government is also now working towards a national policy framework for gender to facilitate and protect the interests of women in all aspects of life.

I have chosen to share these developments in Fiji with you in the hope that you will study them and in time, learn to appreciate the progress that are currently being undertaken in the context of Fiji’s efforts to return the country to a truly democratic and united country that is void of all forms of discrimination whether it be based on age, gender, ethnicity or ability.

The Fiji People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress and the Roadmap to Democracy and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development are the key reference documents which I also encourage you to study as you deliberate about the future and how you want to shape the future for your respective peers and those who will follow after you.

I conclude with the words of Margret Mead, who was no stranger to the Pacific. Ms Mead once said quote: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

You are that small group of thorough, young and committed citizens. And you are going to change the world.

Revel in those words and take due responsibility for your actions and thoughts here today and for the next few days.

I have no doubt that you will achieve much during this meeting.

I sincerely wish you fruitful discussions and I look forward to reading about the recommendations and the forward action plans for the future.

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, sukria, bahoot dhanyavaad.