The Future Pacific Island Children Want

Teenager Karen Semens, from the Federated States of Micronesia,
says her main challenge growing up is being a girl. She says that
her culture doesn’t afford girls the same rights and
opportunities of boys. Photo supplied.

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Australia, Mar 5 2020 (IPS)

For 13-year-old Karen Semens, growing up on Pohnpei — one of
the four main island states in the Federated States of Micronesia,
which comprises of more than 600 islands in the western Pacific
Ocean — the main challenge is being a girl.

“In our culture, girls don’t have the same rights and
opportunities nor do they get credit and recognition for their
achievements as boys do. This prevents us from speaking our minds.
For example in family meetings, only men make the decisions. I
would like all girls to be treated as equals and have a say in
decision making,” the 8th grade pupil from the Ohmine Public
Elementary school in Pohnpei, tells IPS.

Equal rights for the girl child, climate change, access to
healthcare and education are some of the issues Pacific island
children are raising at the 84th extraordinary outreach session of
the Committee
on the 1989 United Nations (U.N.) Convention
on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
being held in Samoa’s
capital, Apia, from Mar. 2 to 6.

Over 100 children from Pacific Island nations are having the
opportunity to highlight the issues impacting them and their hopes
for the future to the Committee on CRC. In a historic first, a U.N.
human rights treaty body is meeting outside the U.N. headquarters
of New York or Geneva, offering more governments, civil society
organisations, regional agencies, and national human rights and
academic institutions a chance to directly interact with the CRC
and learn about its work. Having the session in Samoa is also
providing the Committee with new insights and understanding of
local and regional issues of the Pacific.

On the Mwokilloa atoll, where 13-year-old Austin Ladore’s
mother grew up and where he spends his summer holidays, rising sea
levels and coastal erosion are threatening the very existence of
this low lying island and its people.

“We want action on climate change so our islands are protected
and we, the children, can have a sustainable future,” Austin,
Semens’s classmate, tells IPS.

“We are at the frontline, facing the consequences of climate
change,” Ladore says. 

Austin Ladore (13), who is in 8th grade at the Ohmine Public
Elementary school in Pohnpei, one of the four main island states in
The Federated States of Micronesia, says children on his island are
on the frontline of climate change. Photo supplied.

These children would also like access to proper healthcare,
drinking water, good quality education, and affordable nutritious
food.

“There aren’t enough qualified doctors and our hospitals
aren’t equipped to treat some of the chronic diseases. Many of us
eat unhealthy instant noodles as fruits and vegetables are very
expensive. Every day, it is getting hotter. It makes us
dehydrated, but there is scarcity of drinking water. Most of the
schools on the islands have outdated books. We want a solution to
all these problems,” Semens tells IPS.

The Committee consists of 18
Independent experts
 that monitor implementation of the CRC,
the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, by its

196 States parties
. During this session, the Committee will
review the Federated States of Micronesia, the Cook Islands and
Tuvalu on how their countries are protecting, promoting and can
further improve the rights of children under the CRC. It will also
prepare Lists of Issues on the Republic of Kiribati.

Acting chief justice Vui Clarence Nelson of Samoa, who is the
vice-chair of the CRC and the only Pacific Islander to ever sit on
any of the U.N. treaty bodies tells IPS: “The Pacific is a
strategic choice by the Committee as it is a region with big
potential for improved treaty body effectiveness where: reporting
rates and civil society engagement levels are generally low; treaty
body engagement and implementation is impeded by geographical and
resource constraints – in Kiribati, the Federated States of
Micronesia and the Cook Islands, it takes three days to travel by
boat to the more remote outlying islands; and representation on
the treaty bodies is extremely low, further reducing the likelihood
of effective engagement and implementation.”

The Session is ‘extraordinary’ in nature because of being
held in Samoa and is one week in length as opposed to three.

“By ‘bringing the treaty body system to the regions and
rights holders in their backyard’ it is believed that the
following impacts will be achieved: Increased ratification of human
rights instruments; increased engagement of the States, national
human rights institutions, and the civil society with the treaty
body system in particular with the Committee on the Rights of the
Child; and raising global awareness of regional issues –
especially the effects of climate change in the Pacific. To this
end a special part of the Session is being devoted to climate
change and the right to a healthy environment,” Nelson tells
IPS.

The principal intergovernmental organisation in the region, the
Pacific Community’s (SPC –
Sustainable Pacific Development) human rights division Regional Rights Resource
Team
(RRRT) has partnered with the U.N. to bring this
extraordinary session to Samoa.

SPC RRRT director Miles Young tells IPS: “It is an excellent
example of collaboration amongst many parties with a common
interest in bringing the treaty body system closer to its
stakeholders – in this case, the children, people and countries
of the Pacific. This level of interaction with Pacific Islanders
would not have occurred had the hearing been held in Geneva or New
York.  The effect will be to make the treaty body system – and
therefore human rights – more tangible to Pacific
Islanders.”

Fourteen Pacific Island Countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati,
Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue,
Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu,
Vanuatu) have ratified the CRC.

While progress has been made in implementing the CRC, especially
in enacting child protection laws, reducing child poverty, child
marriages and mortality rates for children under five years of age,
many challenges persist.

Besides climate change, children are suffering from economic
inequalities, food and water insecurity, poverty, epidemics and
outbreaks of diseases, domestic violence, sexual abuse and neglect,
absence of child protection laws and mechanisms, high levels of
corporal punishment in the family and domestic setting, outdated
child rights legislation in some of the jurisdictions, and in some
States an inadequate child justice system.

“The event has raised the profile of the CRC in the Pacific
and we can build on this to generate greater momentum for human
rights. We, in the Pacific, are almost always the ‘forgotten’
region when it comes to global affairs.  This is an opportunity to
raise a key issue for the region – climate change in the context
of Pacific children and the region more generally,” Young
says.

In June 2019 the annual meeting of chairpersons of the treaty
bodies stated its support for conducting dialogues with States
Parties at a regional level. The U.N.’s Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
has organised the
Samoa session with assistance and advocacy of SPC RRRT. The
governments of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and
Sweden are sponsoring the session and the Government of Samoa is
hosting the event.

“RRRT will be assessing the pros and cons of the sitting –
this analysis will feed into the U.N.’s review of the treaty body
system, which the U.N. is currently undertaking, and help inform
decisions on how and where it holds future treaty body hearings,”
Young adds.   

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the session on 2nd March,
SPC’s deputy director general, Dr A Aumua said: “In the
Pacific, there is a saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a
child’. The meaningful participation of children is essential to
the fulfilment of their rights, aspirations and full human
potential. I’m confident that we can show the leadership needed
to build a sustainable future for the children of this
region.”

The post
The Future Pacific Island Children Want
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
The Future Pacific Island Children Want