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Niue politician blames family planning experts for ‘depopulation’ threat

Niue ... falling population

Niue … falling population. Image: southpacifictourism.com

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Michael Sergel and Finian Scott in Wellington

A Niue politician believes family planning initiatives are threatening the future of the small Pacific nation.

Va’aiga Tukuitonga told delegates at the Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum in Wellington today that the high use of contraception was the root cause of depopulation.

“We are the only island in the world with depopulation,” she said.

APJlogo72_icon“Now depopulation is the biggest issue affecting our people, and it is the result of our women following those Pacific family planning people.”

Samoan High Chief and cabinet minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa disagreed, and said the Samoan government was committed to reproductive healthcare and contraception.

Va’aiga Tukuitonga

Niue’s Va’aiga Tukuitonga … biggest issue. Image: Pacific Women in Politics

She blamed high rates of chlamydia on men being “active elsewhere” and failing to use contraception, and said there was a high risk of an AIDS epidemic in the Pacific if women failed to use contraception.

“Guys, you need to take the lead and wear condoms,” she said, directing her attention to male delegates.

“I do think condoms are the way to go. We have been getting the government on board and getting the churches on board.”

Human right
Both women were responding to Sumi Subramaniam, who told delegates that family planning was a human right, and sexual education was a regional priority.

The former director of Family Planning International accepted that Pacific cultures tend to promote abstinence until marriage and monogamy.

But she said that teen pregnancy and STI statistics were proof that abstinence until marriage was “clearly not happening”.

While sexual education could be geared for different cultures, she believed sexual education needed to happen “regardless of cultural context”.

She argued that family planning was essential for reducing infant and maternal mortality, preventing the spread of STIs and HIV, and reducing the number of teen and unwanted pregnancies.

“It is about education, it is about sexual and reproductive healthcare, and it is about having the courage to address these issues,” she told delegates.

Sustainable healthcare
Debbie Ryan of Pacific Perspectives also addressed the forum, stressing the importance of financially sustainable healthcare and better health outcomes, through less smoking, healthier eating, better primary care and more at-home care.

Dr Ryan said spending must be within budget, even as populations aged and Pacific nations like New Zealand dealt with rapidly high rates of obesity. In New Zealand, she claimed 65 percent of Pasifika people were obese.

Matai Akauloa, the National Director of Marriage Ministries International in Fiji, said raising a family was a central part of Pacific culture, and should be a priority of Pacific leaders.

“I hope the New Zealand government will make family issues key to dealings with the Pacific,” he told the forum.

He said the kind of pre-marriage counselling done by his ministry, which prepared engaged couples with the sexual and practical aspects of marriage, was an appropriate form of reproductive education in the Pacific.

Tukuitonga also raised concerns about Western health authorities rejecting traditional practices and regional values in other areas of healthcare.

“Can any of our plants cure HIV AIDs?” she asked the speakers, before the speaker brought an end to the debate.

Michael Sergel and Finian Scott are Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalists at AUT University. They are covering the Pacific politics forum for Pacific Scoop and the Pacific Media Centre as an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment.