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UNFPA Pacific, Suva (December 24, 2013) - We have all seen the uniting power of sport; it is indiscriminate and its tentacles reach across ethnic, religious and age groups, or however else society has compartmentalized your world.

Sport and play are first and foremost basic human rights which have to be respected and enforced; but just as important is its capacity as a development tool. A United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace in 2003 defined sport in the context of development as "all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction, such as play, recreation, organised or competitive sport and indigenous sports and games."

Sport is especially appealing to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Pacific Sub-Regional Office (PSRO) because of its potential to reach young people, youth being one of the core mandate areas of the organisation as a whole.

"Sport has also been recognised world-wide as a low-cost but high-impact development tool in humanitarians and development efforts," Director and Representative Dr Laurent Zessler said after his participation at the Pacific Youth and Sports Conference (PYSC) and youth ministers' meeting at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in New Caledonia earlier this month.

"One fifth of the Pacific population consists of young people. This can be an opportunity in development and progress, and we recognise sport as an effective avenue.

"By its very nature, sport is about participation, team work, it is about human values like respect for your opponents, it is about rules and discipline, it is about fairness - principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations and values we would like our young people to develop."

At the minister's meeting, Dr Zessler shared the UNFPA experience in contributing towards the improvement of lives of young Pacific people. The communiqué of the Pacific Ministers of Youth and Sport noted UNFPA's "important role in addressing youth issues including in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and population statistics relating to youth".

The potential of sport for development approaches was further recognised by the ministers who highlighted the need to apply the concept on efforts to address social issues relating to youth development.

Like its partners in development, UNFPA Pacific affirmed the organization's support for the Pacific Youth Development Framework (PYDF); it is the third five-year regional youth strategy. The Framework offers two more steps than previous strategies - commitment for the establishment of a national coordination mechanism and specificity of processes.

"Young people are core to our business of population and development and we will continue to support initiatives that we feel can help us towards the ultimate goal of individuals' full realization of their potential," Dr Laurent said.

Dr Laurent said the recognition by governments that young people were the energy of our Pacific island nations and the region was indeed heartening for development partners like the UNFPA. The UNFPA advocates for a people-centred approach in development plans, placing people back to the centre of platforms designed to facilitate progress which the Framework captures in its eight guiding principles: strengths-based and evidence-based, ownership and active participation, partnerships and co-operation, sustainability, diversity and inclusiveness, rights-based and innovative.

The Framework hopes to see the last of barriers to youth-related commitments in the past like the lack of appropriate budgeting to finance the plans. Armed with the oomph only a ministerial endorsement could foster, the 2014-2023 strategy has possibly addressed barriers to implementation by its prerequisite that an actual mechanism be established to see through its roll-out, guided by very specific steps.

The Framework when implemented will not replace existing youth policies in regards to its priority areas: education and employment, health, governance and participation and youth engagement in environmental action. While education and employment, participation in governance and engagement in environment action are all very important enablers for young people to fully realize their rights, a healthy population underlines these considerations.

"If we do not address fundamentals like ensuring people can access sexual and reproductive health services and facilities, if individuals and couples cannot effectively plan the number of children or the intervals they want to have them in, then this opportunity will be lost," Dr Zessler said.

At the young people's conference, Dr Laurent shared the critical importance of age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education considering that the adolescent fertility rate in most Pacific island countries are still above the average Asia and Pacific of 40 live births per year among 1000 girls aged between 15 and 19.

Fiji's Minister for Youth and Sports Viliame Naupoto attended the conference and he said the framework should improve regional co-ordination and resourcing of youth development initiatives. Mr Naupoto said the framework should also strengthen youth engagement and cross-sectoral integration for the young people at national level.

"The meeting also recognised the potentials in sports to help contribute to the reduction of risks in youths from attracting non-communicable diseases," Mr Naupoto said.

"Sports also facilitate the inclusion of people from all walks of life including people with disability."

Dr Laurent said UNFPA Pacific would continue to work at national and regional levels to identify and work with stakeholders to improve the organization's effectiveness.

"We can change the lived realities of the future generations by acting now; we nurture now a culture of human rights where young people are at the centre and front of development and progress, and we are already on our way to achieving regional development goals," he said.

The UNFPA Pacific office wishes you the very best of outcomes in 2014, and anticipates moving forward with governments, civil society organisations and other stakeholders in nurturing an environment where everyone will count, where all pregnancies will be wanted, every birth safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled