The Prime Minister of Tonga, Honourable Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni Hu’akavameiliku
The Prime Minister of Samoa, Hon Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa
The Vice-president of Kiribati, Honourable Dr. Teuea Toatu
Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat Henry Puna
UNICEF Pacific Representative Jonathan Veitch
Permanent Secretaries and Representatives of the Ministries of Education, Finance, Health and Social Welfare
Representatives of Development Organizations and other institutions
Ladies and Gentlemen
Girls and Boys
Ni Sa Bula Vina’a,
I warmly welcome you to the 2023 Pacific Forum for Early Childhood Development especially representatives from all 15 governments gathered here today.
It is most reassuring to see the highest ranks of government gather for the youngest citizens of our Blue Pacific.
With the theme: Building Resilient Pacific Communities through ECD, This forum provides us an opportunity to galvanize collective efforts to secure the vision of 2050 Blue Pacific via people-centred development.
Nurturing the human capital of the Pacific starts from its very foundation – the earliest years – when we have a singular window of opportunity to make the most impact on both the lifelong trajectories of our children, and the sustainable development of our nations.
Our children today will be the future leaders of the 2050 Blue Pacific.
I thank the Pacific Regional Council for Early Childhood Development and UNICEF as its Secretariat for organizing this day forum, with the support of the New Zealand Government and other regional partners.
I have the humble honour of being the Pacific Champion for early childhood. As a father and grandfather, I know of the many joys and challenges of raising children.
All parents want the best for their children. But for families in adverse circumstances or marginalized communities, it can be difficult to provide optimal experiences for children to grow and thrive.
Our governments need to step up for children and their parents. What this entails is that we provide the legislative mandate, the political commitment, the financial and human resources to deliver high-quality services to young children and their families, especially those that need it the most.
This requires a whole-of-government approach, which is why I am pleased to see different sectors represented here today; the ministries of health, education, children, justice, internal affairs, planning, and finance.
Effective coordination across sectors optimizes the impact on young children and maximizes social and economic returns.
On the heels of COVID19 and its impact on our public resources, it is encouraging to see all stakeholders working across aisles to streamline resources and make smart decisions about where we can make the most impact.
Guided by the Pasifika Call to Action on Early Childhood Development, I congratulate countries here today for coordinating their efforts in Early Childhood Development investments, national multi-sectoral ECD policies, improved services in early childhood education, health, nutrition, child protection, WASH, child-focused social protection and parenting support.
I applaud the Pacific Regional Council for ECD for providing a regional platform for collaboration between countries, with our Minister of Women and Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji Hon Lynda Tabuya co-chairing the council with Finance Minister of Samoa Hon. Mulipola Molioo.
I support the call to strengthen this regional council for Early Childhood Development, sustain this regional forum for ECD, and to embed these more firmly in the regional architecture for the Pacific.
I am pleased to learn that this forum has elevated early childhood development as a cornerstone of resilience-building for the Pacific.
As Prime Minister of Fiji, I also hold the Climate Change portfolio of the country.
In this role, I affirm that our efforts to promote Early Childhood Development will not be successful if they are not interwoven into our region’s priority on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
While climate change will increasingly impact everybody, children are disproportionately affected, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Children are the least to be blamed for climate change and yet they bear the brunt of it. This injustice needs to be addressed.
Our national climate plans on mitigation and adaptation needs to prioritise children as part of our overall efforts to build the resilience of our people.
We need to join the global call for global financing mechanisms on climate change to prioritize programmes and services for young children and families.
Failing to give children the best start in life perpetuates cycles of poverty and disadvantage that can span generations, undermining the strength and stability of societies.
On the other hand, comprehensive Early Childhood Development programmes – across health, nutrition, early learning, safety and security, and responsive caregiving – offer a promising combination of interventions to build protective competencies essential for resilience.
Early Childhood Development provides one of the most cost-effective, comprehensive, immediate, and enduring paths to boosting human development, as well as achieving climate resilience and sustainable development.
Fiji joins other Pacific governments in stepping up and making bolder and better investments in young children.
I encourage all of you to use this occasion to openly share ideas and experiences with each other, to collectively commit to even more impactful actions for our young children, and to find ways to solidify stronger cooperation across our Pacific Forum family.
It is my humble pleasure to be officially opening this momentous forum.
I wish you all the best in your discussions these three days and I look forward to hearing of the concrete plans and positive outcomes.