Learn more about specific causes in Cook Islands that you can get involved in.
EnvironmentEnvironment The Cook Islands are a chain of 15 islands in the South Pacific. Tourists are drawn to its sandy beaches and volcanic mountains.1 Because of their isolated location, many Pacific islands are largely unaffected by pollution. One of the biggest threats to the environment is tropical storms, which can occur from November to March.2
FamilyThe islanders have a strong connection to their Polynesian, Samoan, and other Pacific Islander heritage. However, the islands are at risk for losing their native culture as the population is steadily declining. In 2014, the population of Cook Islands was declining at a rate of 3% per year, second only to Syria. Citizens move to the mainland of New Zealand where they feel they will enjoy greater opportunities.1
Human RightsWomen and girls on the islands struggle to receive equal opportunities for work advancements as their male peers. Factors such as early marriage, teen pregnancy, sexual assault, and lack of government aid cause females to drop out of school earlier and therefore have less opportunities to advance their careers. 1 There is also no legal action in place to discourage sexual abuse and trafficking. As a result, perpetrators face no consequences even in cases that are reported to the police.2
EducationPublic education on the islands is free and compulsory for students ages 5-15, and it follows a similar structure to New Zealand’s educational system. Students learn about agriculture and the Maori culture and early on, with the option to receive more vocational training later.1 The biggest struggle for education on the islands is the lack of qualified teachers and limited access to remote villages. Experienced teachers opt to work on the mainland, and the islands’ isolation inhibits telecommunication capabilities.2 98% of children begin primary school at age 5, but only 64% are still in attendance by age 11. Dropout rates are high for both male and female adolescents.3
PovertyWhile Cook Islands is a lower-middle income nation, its citizens enjoy higher incomes than those on many other Pacific islands. This is a result of the successful tourism industry, agricultural exports, and public service employment opportunities.1
ReligionPacific Island tradition influences the practice of Christianity on the islands. The highest percentage of people identify with the Congregational Christian Church, a branch of Protestantism introduced by London missionaries.1 Members of the church have an annual celebration called “Gospel Days”, a commemoration of when missionaries first arrived on the islands. They sing, dance, and enact real-world current events that show the battle between good and evil.2
Clean WaterThe management of clean water sources is one of the biggest challenges on the islands. Drinking water is collected in tanks from groundwater sources or rainwater, but water purification systems often do not work properly due to a lack of expertise. The sewage management system also malfunctions without proper care, allowing raw sewage to flow into the sea water.1 New Zealand representatives provide instruction to islanders on proper waste management.2
EconomyThe Cook Islands depend on tourism and black pearl exports as the foundation of their economy. It is also a common location for offshore banking where people can store their assets out of reach of courts and creditors.1 Like other Pacific Islands, Cook Islands’ economy is limited by its geographic isolation.2
GovernmentThe Cook Islands is a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand. They are totally responsible for their own local government and receive aid from New Zealand in foreign affairs and defense. The appointed minister works with local leaders to represent the islands.1,2
HealthAll of the islands struggle to educate residents about the dangers of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that result from unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, and inactivity. NCDs such as diabetes and cardiovascular conditions were the leading cause of death in Pacific Island nations in 2013. By providing more regulation of alcohol and tobacco and educating citizens on the dangers of these activities, the government hopes to reduce the prevalence of NCDs.1 A lack of sexual education also leads to many teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.2
ChildrenYoung citizens who remain on the islands can take part in educational programs where they learn the traditional vocations of their ancestors, like canoe-making and fishing. These programs are a part of efforts to maintain the islands’ culture despite a mass population exodus to New Zealand.1 Children younger than 16 are not legally allowed to work, although the law is loosely enforced by the local Industrial Relations Officer.2
AnimalsMost of the wildlife population in the New Zealand territories is similar to other Pacific islands. Several species of insects and birds are endangered, but the local government has taken measures to protect them.1 In 2012, the Cook Islands government committed to preserving over 425,000 square miles of its ocean territory as a Marine Park. The park protects the coral reefs, wildlife, and other biodiversity that lives in its ocean space.2
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