Knut Ostby: Statement at the launch of “Urban Youth in the Pacific”

Jun 2, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be part of the launch this evening of this report entitled Urban Youth in the Pacific: Increasing resilience and reducing risk for involvement in crime and violence.

The report aims to provide policy and programming options for Pacific governments and other stakeholders, including the United Nations, to prevent young people becoming involved in crime and violence, and to fulfill their potential as productive citizens. It attempts to present how human security can be strengthened through supporting young people, who are at risk of involvement in crime and violence, to build resilience.

Report Preparation
The Pacific Forum Secretariat was tasked in 2008 to carry out this study by the FRSC who recognized the growing involvement of young people in crime and violence and sought guidance in how to implement the Human Security Framework for Conflict Prevention on the issue.

The stakeholders themselves have been at the core of making this report possible. Governments, civil society and young people themselves have freely given their time, experience and knowledge to make this report an accurate reflection of the situation young people in urban areas are facing. I say thank you to all for contributing to this important report and the concrete policy and programming recommendations that it contains.

A key dimension that has made the production of this report unique has been the broad and strong multi-stakeholder partnership we have experienced. It began with the excellent partnership that has existed for many years between the Pacific Forum Secretariat and UNDP. The work we do together on human security issues served as a starting point for this work, and it grew from there through the involvement of UNESCO who contributed funding and made available Natalia as a co-author of the report. UNICEF also provided funding.

Other organizations have also participated through the Advisory Committee for the report, including the Pacific Youth Council, USP, ILO and UNFPA all of whom provided valuable technical inputs, including inputs from several key studies on youth by UNICEF, SPC, PYC, and FSPI as well as previous studies on conflict by UNDP and the Secretariat. The participating organizations are represented here tonight and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their valuable contributions.  I hope that we will be able to count on each other as partners as we move to carry forward a number of the recommendations in the report.

Report Findings
Young people in the Pacific aged 15 to 24 make up around 20 percent of the population and this percentage will continue to grow in the coming decade. As this report acknowledges, the majority of young Pacific people contribute greatly to the society that they live in. They do this through study, work, socio-cultural obligations and service to their family and community. That said, young people are also commonly victims as well as perpetrators of violence and crime. In this sense they both contribute to and threaten human security in the region.

The report is pioneering on several fronts. It is the first regional report that focuses exclusively young people’s involvement in crime and violence. As part of the research work, it also examined a number of key issues that have received scant attention to date, including the gender aspects of the perpetration of crime and violence, the role of young people in domestic and sexual violence, and the increasing number of groups or gangs of young people involved in anti-social behaviour in the region.

The Pacific Youth Risk and Resilience Framework on page 10 was developed as part of this study as a simple model to understand how environmental factors affect young people. It identifies risk factors that increase the probability of youth involvement in crime and violence.

These include substance abuse and violence in the family environment, disengagement from extended family structures, economic hardship, lack of employment or meaningful activity opportunities, lack of voice in decision making, and lack of positive role models.

Showing also the other side of the picture, the report identifies resilience factors that decrease the probability of involvement in crime and violence by young people. Some of these factors include: Relevant and quality education, sound guidance from parents, quality time spent by parents with children, peers that show positive behaviour, engagement with religious institutions, good communication within families, a healthy and safe family and community environment.

Clearly, the family unit and adults in the wider community have a key role in the shaping of lives of young people. Often in these kinds of contexts like this evening, leaders like to talk about young people being the next generation of leaders. But the question really is whether we as adults are doing enough to provide young people with a foundation of values, skills and opportunities to develop in to great leaders and model citizens? This leads to questions about our own capacity to act as good role models. I believe there is several take home lessons for us all in these findings, both in our professional and private capacities.

Future Use of the Report
It is indeed heartening for me to hear that youth issues will be given prominence at other important regional meetings such as the CROP Heads meeting and hopefully at the Forum Leaders meeting in the second half of the year. We also already have a number of follow up activities in the works. From next Monday, the 6th June, the Pacific Solution Exchange will take up a public e-discussion online on the topic of Youth Employment and Resilience to Crime in the Pacific in partnership between the Forum Secretariat, USP, ADB and UNDP. I encourage you all to take part. UNDP is also working with UNESCO and the Commonwealth Youth Programme to hold the Wansolwara Youth Peace Building Training Conference in Auckland later this month for young people from across the Pacific. I believe that Jewel who spoke earlier will be a participant in the conference.

Some Recommendations
Before closing, I would just like to highlight a number of recommendations grounded in the report that I think are key to fulfilling the ultimate aim of preventing young people to become involved in crime and violence, and to fulfill their potential as productive citizens.

Employment and meaningful activity for youth are critical for building resilience to crime and violence. The UNDP Human Development Report states that: “the policies to promote youth employment can reduce social tensions and the likelihood of conflict by improving job opportunities for young people.” The report we are launching today recommends better alignment between education outcomes and job markets in the region, including for vocational trades. Thankfully there has been some positive developments in the region along these lines recently such as in PNG and Tonga. I understand that Tuvalu has also submitted a paper on this issue which will be tabled together with this report in session two tomorrow. I commend Tuvalu and the work of the Pacific Youth Council, ILO and UNICEF in highlighting this issue.
The report shows that young people are not only victims of violence in the home, but are often also perpetrators, especially young men.

Studies in the Pacific region have shown that exposure to violence in the home in childhood increases the probability of later involvement in violence in the home and the wider community in adulthood. I am pleased to see that sexual and gender based violence which is an important aspect of human security is a standing agenda item on the FRSC agenda and that the SGBV Reference Group based at the Secretariat has achieved good early results.

Mainstreaming youth issues as a cross cutting theme in regional development structures and into national government policy is also critical. This includes greater cooperation between Governments and CSOs, who are already doing effective work for youth at-risk of involvement in crime and violence, but have the potential to do more. Governments around the region can also learn from each other in areas such handling of juvenile offenders. Better local support of criminal deportees to facilitate their reintegration and better regional coordination between deporting and receiving countries is also needed.

The young people who took part in this study, including those already in conflict with the law, all had dreams for their future. Some dreamt of becoming engineers, doctors, teachers, sport professionals, scientists, or even astronauts.

They all wanted opportunities to fulfill their dreams. To not be able to reach their potential has been a source of great disappointment and frustration.

I sincerely hope that the snapshot of the situation of young people presented in this report can help us all improve the design of our programmes for youth, and allow decision-makers to respond better to the true voices of young people, so that we all may live in a more secure and prosperous Pacific.

Vinaka vakalevu.