QUEENS, New York — Vanuatu is an archipelago made up of more than 80 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It is a young country in the sense that children 18 or younger account for about 44% of the population. About 11% of children in Vanuatu’s rural areas endure poverty in comparison to about 22% of children in the country’s urban areas. Vanuatu’s children suffer due to a lack of quality education and proper health care services. By improving access and quality of health and education, the nation can combat child poverty in Vanuatu.
Children’s Health in Vanuatu
One concern about children’s health in Vanuatu is stunting. Stunting is when a child’s height does not correspond to the child’s age in a way that is indicative of good health. Due to malnutrition, Vanuatu’s child stunting rate stands at almost 30%. Most cases of child stunting exist among more impoverished households that lack access to nutritious and sufficient food. An additional concern is that a staggering 67% of children in Vanuatu have not received all their vaccinations against preventable diseases, such as polio and measles.
The impacts of these circumstances are far-reaching. Stunted children who are not receiving proper nutrition and children who are not fully vaccinated against preventable diseases are more likely to develop illnesses that can keep them out of school. Ultimately, this hinders a child’s ability to obtain knowledge and skills through education, which provides a proven pathway out of poverty. With an education, impoverished children are able to access higher-paying, skilled jobs, providing a means for them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Improving Children’s Health in Vanuatu
Vanuatu’s health expenditure accounts for a minuscule percentage of its GDP. In 2014, the country’s health expenditure stood at a mere 5% of its GDP. As a result of minimal public health expenditure, the country relies significantly on donations from “external sources” to fund health expenditure.
In order to combat food insecurity and reduce child stunting and poverty in Vanuatu, the Australian government provided resources to Vanuatu to aid in the creation of food gardens for more than 1,600 households. Australia also provided “poultry breeder packs” to almost 1,000 households. To reduce the risk of disease among children, many of whom have not received all necessary immunizations against vaccine-preventable diseases, the U.S. Peace Corps manages a community health project in Vanuatu that encourages schools to implement healthy practices related to sanitation and clean water.
Because Vanuatu’s government only allocates a small portion of its budget to the health care sector, the Australian government provided $17 million to Vanuatu to strengthen its COVID-19 response in 2020. This assistance made it possible for Vanuatu to “purchase medical equipment” and “upgrade health infrastructure” in ways that will benefit the people of Vanuatu long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
Childhood Education in Vanuatu
About 57% of children ages 3-5 in Vanuatu are not enrolled in an early childhood education program. Of the 86% of children attending primary school, many of them are over-age and few of them make it through secondary school, where the enrollment is even lower at 35%.
This sweeping lack of education among Vanuatu’s youth makes it difficult for them to secure the types of skilled jobs that can help modernize society and combat poverty in Vanuatu. Instead, many of the children who drop out of primary and secondary school are thrust into child labor. Although Vanuatu legally prohibits the employment of children younger than 12, except on family farms, many children engage in child labor.
Two aspects of Vanuatu law regarding childhood education are worth noting. First, the Vanuatu law does not mandate that parents send their children to school for primary or secondary education. Second, education is not free. The direct and indirect costs associated with obtaining an education present a challenge for impoverished households to send their children to school. Failure to send children to school often only serves to perpetuate poverty in the family and poverty in Vanuatu.
Improving Childhood Education in Vanuatu
Primary and secondary schools in Vanuatu lack sufficient and qualitative resources and infrastructure. Donor agencies, such as Save the Children and World Vision, largely fund early childhood care and education. Still, Vanuatu’s government does what it can to improve childhood education in the country. In 2015, the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) launched a national campaign set to run until 2017. The campaign, called 6 Yia, Klas 1 (6 Year, Class 1), aimed to promote the enrollment of children in school at the appropriate age.
The campaign also has the effect of strengthening partnership and communication between schools and communities. MoET also provides school grants for a certain number of years in order to encourage school attendance among impoverished children.
Along with health, the Peace Corps also supports education in Vanuatu. Since 2012, the U.S. Peace Corps Literacy Project has been working to enhance literacy in primary schools. It seeks to develop student-centered curriculums that incorporate computer training, improve training for teachers and build and equip libraries to serve as a resource for children and the community in general.
Reducing Child Poverty in Vanuatu
As the population in urban areas continues to grow and the population in rural areas continues to decrease, the demand for schools in urban areas will also grow. With the support of international organizations and trusted partners, Vanuatu must strive to improve its health and education sectors of society in order to provide opportunities for its young population to escape poverty.
– Savannah Algu