Dwindling Population Contributes to Poverty in the Pitcairn Islands

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SEATTLE — There are positives and negatives to living in a place with fewer than 60 inhabitants on a tiny island. For those living on the Pitcairn Islands, however, most everyday experiences have not proved favorable, especially in regards to their economy. Poverty in the Pitcairn Islands is the inevitable result of a minuscule population–57 as of 2014. In fact, the Pitcairn Islands is the smallest representative democracy in existence.

A British colony since 1838, the Pitcairn Islands is a remote group of islands situated in the South Pacific Ocean, about 3,300 miles away from New Zealand, where its governor resides. Its local government body, called the Island Council, is made up of devoted resident volunteers. Similar to the U.S. colonists, the people of Pitcairn find it hard to progress with their leader so far away.

The Island Council devised a Strategic Development Plan to try and combat the growing poverty in the Pitcairn Islands. It is centered around the islands’ tiny population, with its “workforce of about 30 now rapidly aging, few people of childbearing age, and so no prospect of internal growth”. These three issues, as identified by the council, break down as contributing factors to poverty in the Pitcairn Islands:

  1. The workforce: With most of the Pitcairns’ revenue based around the sale of stamps, fishing and sporadic trade with its mother country, the total comprehensive income for 2016 came to less than $800,000. That number, bound to decrease in the coming years as the population continues to age, gives a vivid picture of poverty in the Pitcairn Islands. Jacqui Christian, who represents the Pitcairns in England, was quoted as saying, “The reality is that we don’t really have any jobs to offer. Islanders used to sell stamps to raise funds but, of course, stamp collecting is not as popular as it once was”. One of the main reasons a person emigrates to a new place is for a better future, more money and more opportunity. However, the Pitcairn Islands does not have much to offer.
  2. The declining childbearing population: As the average age increases, the chance of birth rates going up diminishes. Therefore, the people of the Pitcairns have turned to attracting foreigners. But they have met almost no success. According to Christian, “We’ve had many inquiries but only one person has applied to move to Pitcairn.” Whether the islanders need help in advertising their land or transporting people to it, some assistance is needed soon.
  3. No prospect of internal growth: As the development plan states, the Pitcairn community “strives to protect Pitcairn’s unique lifestyle and heritage by focusing on re-population, economic growth, healthcare and environmental protection which will enable Pitcairn to further develop for the benefit of both the community and its partners.” Even while focusing on their heritage, the inhabitants recognize that newcomers will need to feel accepted if the islanders want to see a better life for themselves. They mention in the plan that “the Pitcairn Islands are for everyone, everyone is welcome.”

Arguably, a fourth contributing factor to poverty in the Pitcairn Islands is its education system. A public education is provided only until the age of 12, and continuing education requires moving at least as far away as New Zealand.

The issue of education illustrates a major dilemma: should Pitcairn Islanders support the education of their children, which could lead to brighter ideas for community development in the future? Or should the child stay at home, uneducated, out of fear of contributing to the declining population?

With a declining workforce and diminishing childbearing population, the islanders have become desperate for growth and support from outside sources to face the challenge of increasing poverty in their home.

As an ally of the European Union, Pitcairn has been granted an indicative amount of €2.4 million for the period 2014-2020. More aid like this is needed to end poverty in the Pitcairn Islands and allow its inhabitants to flourish.

One obvious pro about living in a tiny community, which the Pitcairn Islanders have demonstrated, residents can express their closeness and passion for their heritage. They simply need more support to help them grow their population and economy.

Sydney Missigman

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Sydney Missigman

Sydney lives in Goodyear, AZ. Her academic interests include business, journalism and communications. Sydney traveled to Nicaragua in 2016 to help a local school build a garden and improve their facilities for their students. She loved seeing the children and eating the fried plantains!

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