Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Girls and Boys.

Ni sa bula vinaka and Good morning to you all.

It is refreshing to be in the company of representatives of the most precious, promising and vulnerable members of our society – our children.

Many of us in this room are parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles. Every single one of us here was a child at one stage too – even if our own children find that hard to believe. Today, we know so much more about how our earliest years of life shaped the people we have become. Science and medicine have evolved at almost lightning speed, helping experts better understand the miraculous capacity of an infant’s mind.

Now we know that healthy development in the early years provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation.

Now we know that from the womb to birth, and as their brains and bodies grow in the first five years of life – parents, caregivers, practitioners, and policy-makers need to ensure a holistic model of care for children that encompasses health, education, safety and well-being.

As you know, here at the 51st PIF Leaders Meeting, we are working towards the endorsement of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent – but, it is these children seated before us today, who will ultimately action and guide the strategy to the finish line. The support we give them now matters considerably.

However, a worrying trend is being observed; its impacts rippling across our region. A child born today in the Pacific is prevented from reaching his or her full potential because of challenges relating to nutrition, education, protection, and health.

It was this finding that prompted Forum Leaders in 2018 to call for “a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach at the national level, to address non-communicable diseases, childhood obesity, stunting and early childhood development”.

The result has been the fifteen-member Pacific Regional Council for Early Childhood Development, co-chaired by Fiji and Samoa with support from UNICEF. Ministerial representation on the Council signals just how critical we as Pacific Leaders consider this issue to be. From Health to Education; Social Welfare to Women and Finance, this multi-sectoral council embodies the call for a whole-of-government approach to early childhood development. Because we know that raising a child takes an entire community.

As the Council implements its Pasifika Call to Action on Early Childhood Development, the Pacific Child website being launched today will be an indispensable platform for countries to exchange information and resources. It will directly support our nations in co-ordinating our investment priorities, as well as our action. All geared towards ensuring our young children reach their full potential.

I congratulate the Council and commend the leadership of its fifteen (15) member countries on their progress thus far.

I also want to thank our development partners, UNICEF and the World Bank, and our fellow Forum member Governments, Australia and New Zealand. Their technical expertise and guidance provide us with the momentum to make real change.

Fiji is currently one of eight (8) Council Members working towards developing our National Early Childhood Development (ECD) Policy and Action Plan. Amongst the youngest populations on the planet, the Pacific cannot afford to leave our youngest citizens behind.

The sad fact is that climate change will be an issue our children inherit –– even in the best-case scenario of emissions-reductions. Their well-being must be central to our resilience priorities and resourcing –– because their minds must be at the forefront of solving this crisis.

What is one of the best ways a country can boost shared prosperity, promote inclusive economic growth, expand equitable opportunity, and end extreme poverty? The answer now is obvious: Invest in early childhood development.

If we want resilient communities, we must invest in children today.

If we want sustainable infrastructure, we must invest in children today.

If we want a healthy and productive workforce, we must invest in children today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why I am honoured today to accept the Council’s invitation to serve as Pacific Champion for Early Childhood Development. I have six children, nineteen grandchildren, and very recently became a great grandfather – so I guess you could say I qualify for the job!

I commend the work of my fellow Pacific Leaders in supporting their countries’ progress in securing policy and investment designed to meet the needs of their young; and I look forward to many more years of collaboration, as we protect the aspirations of Our Children Today; and help them become Our Leaders of Tomorrow.

I wish the Council, its members, and stakeholders the best in progressing the ECD agenda – aided by this state-of-the-art website.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.

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