SPC/RSPD/Country Statement 15/Rev. 7 May 2001 ORIGINAL: FRENCH
SECRETARIAT OF THE PACIFIC COMMUNITY
REGIONAL SEMINAR ON POPULATION AND DEVELOPMENT (Noumea, New Caledonia, 26 – 30 March 2001) COUNTRY STATEMENT – FRENCH POLYNESIA
DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITION AND ECONOMIC ADJUSTMENT IN FRENCH POLYNESIA This statement is not an exhaustive survey of all French Polynesia‟s development and population issues. It is a statement on the main areas of current concern, which are largely connected with the priorities under the economic adjustment programme embarked upon by French Polynesia a few years ago. 1. Falling but Still Very Brisk Population Growth Rate
French Polynesia‟s population is currently estimated at 235,000. The population growth rate remains relatively high, but has tapered off in recent years. It has slowed down mainly as a result of a falling birth rate and migration has not contributed much to this trend. Since the last census in 1996, we have not had accurate figures on the population‟s ethnic breakdown, as questions on ethnic origin have been outlawed by France. Polynesians born in the territory make up 87 % of the total population. Persons born outside the territory are mainly Metropolitan French (11 % of the overall population) and only 2 % of the population are foreign-born. The fertility rate has been dropping sharply since the 1960‟s and now stands at 2.6 children per woman. Motherhood among the under-20‟s, which concerned nearly 20 % of births in the early '80‟s, now only accounts for 14 %. Although it has fallen by over a third, the childbirth rate among very young mothers remains very high compared with European figures, for example. (This comparison does not imply that European fertility statistics are the model to be followed by French Polynesia.) Despite the progress made, particularly with regard to contraception, elective abortion legislation is still pending1. Though still young, the population is beginning to age with declining fertility and birth rates. Persons over 60 years of age currently account for only 6 % of the population, but ageing is bound to increase as a result of the territory‟s fast demographic transition. 2. Health and Social Welfare
Under the recently introduced general welfare scheme, the Government has been developing two health plans since 1994. They define health policy objectives over a five-year period and suggest action plans for controlling health problems, albeit in a climate of health and social welfare spending restraint. Since 1995, all French Polynesians, including those not earning an income, have been entitled to medical cost relief under the general welfare scheme. 20 % of the population is currently benefiting from this assistance scheme that is jointly funded by France, the Territory and the French Polynesian taxpayer.
In April 2001, just a month after the seminar, the press announced that French elective abortion legislation would be made applicable in French Polynesia, as well as the other two French territories.
Improved health facilities and cover are the reason for the increase in life expectancy. Although infant mortality has reached a level that is close to Europe‟s, untimely adult deaths are, nevertheless, high with more than half the population dying before age 65. Cancer, moreover, is the primary cause of death among women, whereas injuries followed by cancer are the main causes among men. Diseases related to smoking, alcohol and overweight are on the increase and, when combined with the expected effects of an ageing population, raise doubts as to the likelihood of containing health and welfare expenditure in the future. In 1997, health spending alone accounted for more than 10% of French Polynesia‟s GDP. 3. Education
Barely 5 % of the population aged over 15 has never attended school and a third of formally educated people left school at primary level. Compared to the 1960‟s, the proportion of unqualified people has fallen by half, but the current figure of 40 % is still steep. Young people are staying at school for longer, but participation rates also show that French Polynesians enter the job market very early and the fertility rate among women under 25 is still high. In 1999, government spending on schools and higher education was over 10% of GDP. Needs are still substantial, particularly in terms of teaching aids and school buildings, given the population pressure and increasing demand for education. Consultations were held with civil society representatives on development objectives in education, which were then adopted by the French Polynesian Assembly in the '90‟s. 4. Employment
Job creation has significantly slowed down and unemployment has risen steadily over the last 25 years, most markedly affecting the unskilled, women and youth. In 1996, the unemployment rate as measured in International Labour Office terms stood at 13.2 %. A broad range of training and other courses (for which allowances are payable) are offered to the public and aim at upgrading skills and improving job-market access. Every year, 2000 to 2500 new jobs are created, but job vacancies have currently levelled off at around 1500. Long-term unemployment, moreover, is affecting an increasing proportion of job seekers, particularly among the least skilled. These people find it very difficult to obtain employment and run a high risk of being socially excluded. It should be pointed out that employment in French Polynesia is a dual system in which the modern sector, made up largely of salaried employment in business and government, lives side by side with a more traditional economy that provides subsistence livelihoods and self-sufficiency in agriculture, lagoon fisheries and handicraft production, when jobs in the modern sector are unavailable. Young people today appear to be more attracted by the modern sector than the traditional economy, particularly when traditional occupations are engaged in on the fringes of the modern market. It appears to be less and less the case, when these trades are integrated into economic and social development. 5. Gender Equity
Raised levels of general training and salaried employment have been particularly beneficial for women and have contributed to increasing their independence. The importance of women‟s role in French Polynesian society is acknowledged both at home and in the economic and, more recently, political arenas. Discrimination in terms of job access or salaries is not apparent, but no surveys have actually been conducted in this area. It should, however, be pointed out that disparities between salaried women in different industries do exist in terms of working conditions and maternity entitlements. It should also be remembered that unemployment affects women more than men in French Polynesia. Beside their role in the family, French Polynesian women now wish to become more economically and politically visible. The theme of “Women in Business” has been chosen on several occasions to celebrate International Women‟s Days.
The new French law on gender equity in the politics will be applied in French Polynesia for the next general elections. Although “imposed” by French lawmakers, the legislation is a watershed for French Polynesian women on the pathway to the recognition of their rights and towards equity, which, as elsewhere, is not yet fully in effect in French Polynesia (although in some respects it is more so there than abroad). 6. Development Contract between the Metropolitan Government and French Polynesia
As with New Caledonia and for reasons relating to its status, French Polynesia did not take part in the Cairo Conference in 1994 nor in related regional meetings. When French nuclear testing was temporarily suspended, the French Republic and the Territory of French Polynesia signed a framework agreement known as the Economic, Social and Cultural Progress Pact. Article 1 of this document provides that over a 10-year period „the nation shall assist the Territory of French Polynesia in fundamentally transforming its economy, so as to achieve more balanced development and reduce dependence on French government subsidies by encouraging local enterprise and social progress.‟ This support finds expression in two “development contracts”. The current contract, covering the period 2000 – 2003, emphasises the four following broad policy outlines: 1. 2. 3. 4. facilitate French Polynesia‟s economic development, particularly by promoting employment and improving vocational training; develop the territory‟s infrastructures while protecting the environment and developing natural resources; strengthen health cover, social unity and cultural development; and further decentralise the public service and develop the remote island groups.
The importance given to French Polynesian culture should be noted. One of the initiatives undertaken by government has been to develop a cultural heritage programme (2000 was declared Reo Maohi or Polynesian Language Year) and provide support to various cultural associations. The development of new technologies was singled out for special attention in distant and remote islands. Altogether, French Government spending in French Polynesia in 1999 stood at approximately XPF 120 billion (AUD 1.7 billion). In 1998, French Polynesia‟s GDP exceeded XPF 400 billion (approximately AUD 6 billion), ie AUD 26,000 per head of population. 7. Main Population-related Obstacles to Development
Generally, population data is taken into account in the territory‟s development programmes. There are nevertheless some hindrances including: – sustainable economic development constraints on very small islands against a backdrop of globalisation and world-wide competition and with high transport costs; – joint land ownership problems, which are difficult to solve in a way that provides a balance between economic development imperatives and protecting the local population‟s interests; – the disparity between developments in the economic field and amongst some sections of society: huge shifts in the economy require an ability to adapt quickly that varies from one social group to another. Implementation of family and social welfare policy has confirmed the major problems related to inadequate education, violence against children and women, the precarious nature of housing in some cases, increased crime, and drug trafficking and abuse; – emerging social exclusion: in addition to financial assistance, families are provided with education and support programmes through networking initiatives with associations, churches and local-government authorities; – strong adherence to some religious beliefs that sometimes creates obstacles to social development, particularly in terms of access to contraception, elective abortion and, more generally, reproductive health; – environmental hazards: the effects of population growth, particularly in terms of pollution and urban drift, are beginning to cause problems, as previous economic development did not integrate environmental issues. Sanitation, waste management and access to drinking water are among the development contract‟s
priorities. In addition, information campaigns could heighten awareness of the islands‟ fragile ecosystems, so as to increase acceptance of a human-oriented economic development objective.