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FOCUS March 2008 Volume 51

Youth in the Solomon Islands

Elwin Talo and Carol Pitisopa*

* Elwin Talo is a Youth Community Paralegal and Carol Pitisopa is a Legal Rights Training Officer at Live and Learn Solomon Islands.

Youth[1] in the Solomon Islands make up about twenty-nine per cent of the total population.[2]

They consist of thirty-six per cent of the urban population and about twenty-seven per cent of the population in rural areas.[3] Youth in the Solomon Islands face a lot of issues. But this article focuses on two main issues: the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and youth and decision-making.

Issues

1.Commercial sexual exploitation of children

An emerging issue in the Solomon Islands is the commercial sexual exploitation of children. A report[4] carried out by the Christian Care Centre (CCC) of the Church of Melanesia in the Arosi Region of Makira Province, Solomon Islands, found cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children in an area where logging activities took place. Such exploitation included child prostitution with those between the ages of eleven and nineteen. According to the findings in that study young girls were taken to the logging camps, some to work, and later lured into sexual relations and early marriages with those working in the camps.

The findings in this study are not new. They are similar to an earlier study[5] undertaken by the CCC with assistance from the Regional Rights Resource Team in 2004.

The findings in these reports highlight a human rights issue that affects the rights of these young girls.

2.Decision making

In a society where the leadership structure is based on seniority, youth in the Solomon Islands face a lot of challenges when trying to voice their concerns or when participating in decision-making processes.

The Youth in Parliament Pilot Project 2006 is an example of the push by youth to participate at national level politics. The implementer of the project, the Solomon Islands Youth for Change Team (SIYC Team), is made up of young people with a "youth for change concept" that reinforces inclusive, youth- friendly, informal, and non-bureaucratic approach to youth development.[6] The rationale for the project included the need for the young generation to be represented in important decision-making levels seeing that the Solomon Islands population is young. Further, the Constitution provides that Solomon Islanders from the age of twenty-one may stand for elections.[7]

The aims of the project are the following: to empower young people in the social-economic and political paradigm of all levels of the state; to recognize the contribution of suppressed and marginalized population particularly women and youth in the political scene; to ensure that youth issues are adequately and properly addressed through a young voice in the national parliament; and to raise the issue that young people's issues should not be taken lightly.

The candidate who represented the youth contested in the 2006 elections. Out of twenty contestants the SIYC candidate polled 10th place with two hundred two votes. Despite this, the SIYC gained recognition by youth stakeholders, were consulted by the Electoral Commission in the 2006 National General Election Assessment, and the idea of a home grown youth parliament gained momentum.[8]

One of the challenges faced by youth during the lead up to the election was the competition against senior political figures. Other challenges included criticisms and mockery from the public in a society where leadership is based traditionally on seniority; inexperience; the perception by others that the move by youth was a political move engineered by some politicians and organizations; the perception that it was a form of youth rebellion; and that it was a short-sighted undertaking by young people which was unacceptable to the society.

Despite these, the SIYC remains committed to young people and its members aspire to lobby political parties to include a youth wing, and to lobby for legislative reform to allow for the direct representation of women and youth in the national parliament.

3.Other issues

A study[9] carried out in 2003 showed that the main areas of need as highlighted by youth and communities were learning opportunities, livelihoods and income generation, community participation, youth activities and sports, and reproductive health.[10] The study also found that many issues that affect youth such as education opportunities, unemployment, and youth participation in the community were those that had been identified previously,[11] but were still faced by youth even today. This implies that youth needs are not being addressed, or not adequately addressed by the relevant authorities.

Government policy on youth

It should be noted that the policy goal for youth of the current Solomon Islands government, the Coalition for National Unity and Rural Advancement Government (CNURA), is to:

To uphold and promote the rights of...young people...through effective partnership and strong commitment, thereby creating equal opportunities for all to advance the wellbeing of this nation.[12]

Based on this policy statement the CNURA government's expected outcomes include a "synthesized national and international policy development and policy initiatives for women, youth and children, ensuring suitability, adaptability and streamlining of these synergies to our local needs and situation"[13] and "conditions enabling young people to actively participate in all aspects of nation building and development, including decision-making at all levels."[14]

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Solomon Islands acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995. The CRC's definition of a child overlaps with the national definition of youth. This overlap makes the CRC provision on a human rights approach to young people and decision-making very relevant to the Solomon Islands context.

Article 12 of the CRC states:

States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

It is hoped that the Solomon Islands government would take actions that fulfil its policy goal and statements and its obligations under CRC so that the needs and rights of youth are recognized, promoted and protected.

Conclusion

As identified in the Youth Report[15], the needs of the youth include being given the opportunity to engage in income generating activities and other activities to keep them occupied. They should be given the opportunity for better education and employment. They would also like to be engaged in decision-making processes on various issues, at all levels.

Despite being a party to various international human rights conventions, the government still has a long way to go in implementing and realizing the rights instituted in those conventions. It is hoped that the present government will implement its policy of creating an enabling environment for the active participation of youth in nation-building, development and decision-making. After all, as the SIYC theme goes "Youth of Today, Leaders for Today."

For further information, please contact: Live and Learn Environmental Education (Solomon Islands), DSE Building, Honiara, Solomon Islands; ph (677) 23697; fax (677) 24454; e-mail: livelearn@solomon.com.sb; website: livelearn.org

*With assistance from Hugo Hebala

Endnotes

1. In the Solomon Islands youth are generally referred to as those between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine years old and for the purposes of this article this age group is used when discussing youth.

2. Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2005/6: National Report, Solomon Islands Statistics Office , Department of Finance and Treasury, Honiara, September 2006

3. See above.

4. Tania Herbert, 2007, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Solomon Islands: A Report Focusing on the Presence of the Logging Industry in a Remote Region, Honiara, Solomon Islands, Solomon Islands: Christian Care Centre, Church of Melanesia.

5. Christian Care Centre of the Church of Melanesia and Regional Rights Resource Team (2004), Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Child Sexual Abuse in the Solomon Islands. Unpublished report. Suva, Fiji: United Nations Children's Fund, Pacific Office.

6. Elwin Talo, "Youth in Parliament Pilot Project 2006" summary of activities

7. Clause 48, Constitution of Solomon Islands 1978.

8. The youth parliament concept is now in its initial stages with a reference group working with the Youth Division of the Ministry of Women, Youth and Children's Affairs to establish a Youth Parliament in the country

9. Hassall and Associates International, 2003, Youth in Solomon Islands: A Participatory Study of Issues, Needs and Priorities, Final Report.

10. See above, page 53

11. See above, page 36.

12. Policy Goal 24 of the Coalition for National Unity and Rural Advancement Government Policy Statements (CNURA), January 2008. CNURA Translation and Implementation Framework, February 2008

13. Expected Outcome 24.1, CNURA Policy Statement.

14. Expected Outcome 24.3, CNURA Policy Statement

15. Hassall, op. cit.

Additional Information on Solomon Islands
People

The population of Solomon Islands is predominantly Melanesian (about 95%) although there are smaller Polynesian, Micronesian, Chinese and European communities. The Solomon Islanders live in small villages scattered over three hundred forty-seven of its nine hundred twenty-two islands. About 30,000 people live in Honiara, the capital city. There is great variation between the people in each settlement and there is a complex communal customary ownership of the land.

Culture and identity

The social structure is extremely diverse and complex and varies from island to island. Different customs - codes of behavior, systems of land tenure, leadership rules, blends of traditional and world religions, marriage rules and so on - exist throughout the nation. Most communities recognize strong kinship links and obligations with the broad language group.

Government

The Solomon Islands have a parliamentary democracy.
Source: Global Education Website,
http://globaleducation.edna.edu.au/


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