Human Trafficking in Tonga
Despite its effort to develop legislation and procedures to combat human trafficking, Tonga has remained in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Watchlist report for a second consecutive year. In 2019, the State Department reported that the government of Tonga was taking strides toward its human trafficking problem by funding an NGO that aims to assist victims of trafficking. Tonga’s government shifted focus away from human trafficking due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a destructive volcanic eruption and tsunami last year. Since the 2020 TIP report, the country has not shown an increased effort to prosecute traffickers and preventive measures. The 2021 report downgraded Tonga from a Tier 2 country to a Tier 2 watchlist country, where it remained in the 2022 TIP report.

Labor and Sex Trafficking

Tongans, both local and abroad, are vulnerable to labor trafficking. Domestic labor trafficking is rising in many countries globally, Tonga included, as a product of globalization. Low-income Tongan women and children are vulnerable to forced labor within domestic work while a significant portion of Tonga’s domestic labor force is from overseas.

The 2022 TIP report specifically mentions women from the People’s Republic of China that have relocated to Tonga for domestic work. A common technique used to lure women and young people into human trafficking in Tonga is through false job opportunities.

Families may send their children to cities or abroad due to insufficient local opportunities. Hoping to make money for their families, people may apply for jobs that they believe to be legitimate before instead becoming victims of trafficking. Children may then become forced into prostitution or employed by corrupt employers who pay them little, house them in unsafe environments and make it difficult for them to quit.

With a pull of education and work opportunities, Tongans primarily immigrate to New Zealand, Australia and the United States. The 2022 TIP report mentions that it is common for Tongan citizens to work seasonal jobs in neighboring countries of New Zealand and Australia. Some employers abroad exploit the language barrier and high competition for employment by rushing workers to sign employment contracts before they can adequately understand what they are agreeing to.

Limitations With Trafficking Legislation

Tonga’s 2013 Counter Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime Act showed initiative toward tackling human trafficking but had many limitations. Both the U.N.’s and the U.S.’s definitions of human trafficking emphasize trafficking as exploitation through means of “force, fraud, or coercion;” Tonga’s definition of human trafficking does not. Excluding those three means limits what defines human trafficking, who are its victims and who gets prosecuted. Tonga’s definition also limits trafficking to cross national borders, while the U.N. and U.S. do not.

Recent efforts have shown little persistence. Since convicting the country’s first trafficker in April 2011, Tonga has not prosecuted or convicted any others. In 2015, the government identified four potential trafficking victims but has not reported any since. The State Department credits this to a lack of formal identification procedures as well as a general distrust in the Tongan government on the part of the citizens.

Refocusing on the Issue 

With the pandemic, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption and the resulting tsunami in January 2022, the government has veered its focus elsewhere. Tackling other issues have pushed human trafficking combative efforts to the sidelines. However, other countries and global organizations are reaching out with help to address human trafficking in Tonga.

In July 2022, the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) teamed up with The Asia Foundation to begin a five-year project aimed at combating human trafficking in Tonga as well as three other Pacific countries. The program is called the Pacific Regional Initiative and Support for More Effective Counter-Trafficking in Persons, or Pacific RISE-CTIP.

The Asia Foundation is a philanthropic, international nonprofit focused on improving lives across Asia. Specifically, the partnership aims at reducing human trafficking in Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands by reducing vulnerabilities to trafficking, focusing on victim support and establishing legal aid for victims and against perpetrators.

Its approach focuses on getting government actors and private institutions in Pacific Island countries (PICs) involved with the issue. Since the project spans only five years, the aim is to boost existing local institutions that focus on exposing trafficking and helping victims. The hope is that, when the program ends, the systems will have steady ground to continue their initiatives.

Since the arts are significant in Tongan culture, The Asia Foundation uses creativity to communicate its ideas. Several initiatives are currently underway. By teaming up with local painters, photographers, choreographers and poets, The Asia Foundation is using creative outlets to promote the issue and ensure communities and local systems are the sources of change in the PICs.

Looking Ahead

Instead of bulldozing existing Tongan efforts to expose trafficking, the hope is that building community support will increase the likelihood of permanent change. Tonga faces unique vulnerabilities to trafficking, which require unique solutions. Strengthening community leadership and promoting awareness addresses the issue of human trafficking in Tonga in a transformative and culturally significant way specific to the country.

Maya Steele
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Tonga
Renewable energy in Tonga is essential for long-term economic growth as the nation will rely on sustainable and dependable resources instead of unsustainable and environmentally harmful energy sources, like fossil fuels. In 2018, the Kingdom of Tonga took second ranking as the
“most climate vulnerable country in the world,” a situation that the country’s reliance on non-renewable energy resources has exacerbated.

The Situation in Numbers

In 2015, 28% of Tonga’s population lived under the poverty line of $5.50 a day. In 1994, 80% of Tonga had access to electricity, a percentage that rose to 100% in 2020. However, in 2016, just 59% of the population had access to clean cooking fuels. Furthermore, 100% of the electricity in Tonga came from fossil fuels in 2020. The social and economic development of the island is at risk without sustainable energy, but there are plans for the Government of Tonga to reach its goal of “poverty alleviation” through access to reliable electricity for all.

Current Risk

The small island’s land size is 748,5 km²  with a population of more than 105,000 people. Geography, size and susceptibility to natural disasters make it more challenging for the country to transition to renewable energy, however, change is already taking place.

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly came up with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” across the world by 2030. Tonga is looking to achieve SDG 7, “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, ” through the introduction of renewable energy sources, which will, in turn, improve the living standards in the country.

SDG 7 urges movement away from diesel and fossil fuels as these are not environmentally or economically sustainable. Tonga is one of the “first countries in the region” to establish a roadmap in order to achieve SDG 7 by 2030 with an emphasis on renewable energy that will help all aspects of the country.

Economics of Renewable Energy in Tonga

Tonga can mitigate poverty through a shift toward renewable energy in Tonga. According to ARUP, approximately 80% of Tonga’s energy comes from diesel, which stifles the growth of Tonga’s economy. In 2012, fuel accounted for 10% of the GDP and 25% of imports by value. These percentages make Tonga vulnerable as diesel is not a reliable source and will not serve to improve social and economic growth.

Low-cost, green and dependable energy is essential for a better future on the island. Oil prices are volatile, hence a sudden increase in price can hurt Tonga’s economy. The reliance on diesel prevents long-term and stable improvements. The lack of reliable energy also prevents businesses from growing. Without reliable, accessible and sustainable energy, Tonga cannot truly make strides in poverty reduction.

Policy as a Solution

The SDG 7 Roadmap for Tonga has several specific policy step recommendations for Tonga’s future.

  • Access to clean cooking is one of the main areas where improvement is necessary. Around 35% of the island’s population does not have clean cooking technology. The purchase of $100,000 worth of liquified petroleum gas cooking stoves subsidized by the Government of Tonga is recommended for Tonga to reach universal access to clean cooking by 2030.
  • The most cost-effective choice for the future is to avoid diesel-fired power and switch to renewables.
  • Greater investment in solar and wind energy will help Tonga’s transition to renewable energy-based electricity production.
  • Energy improvement surpassing SDG 7 is possible for Tonga and can prevent fuel import reliance. Through low-cost actions like changing to electric transport, using efficient lighting and better fuel economy practices, Tonga can see speedy returns on investments.


The transition to renewable energy in Tonga is in progress, with the island’s government setting the goal of 50% renewable energy reliance by 2020 and 70% by 2030.

The Green Climate Fund approved the Tonga Renewable Energy Project in October 2018. The 25-year-long project is currently under implementation, with the goal of moving away from fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy. On the main island, “the project will deliver utility-scale storage systems to provide base load response and grid stability.” On the outer islands, green mini-grids will undergo installation. Through this process, the project has already avoided more than 265,000 tonnes of emissions. According to the Green Climate Fund, “While stabilizing the grid, this project will particularly address the intermittency of variable renewable energy sources, thus laying the foundation for private sector investments in renewable energy in Tonga.”

Looking Ahead

Renewable energy in Tonga is possible and can significantly impact the future of the economy. Reaching 100% access to electricity is a major feat, so keeping up the progress with renewable energy is essential. In effect, renewable energy will lower the poverty rate as renewable energy is abundant and less expensive after the initial investments.

– Ann Shick
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in Tonga
Located in the Polynesian area of the Pacific Ocean, the Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago of 169 islands with a population of about 107,693. Health care in Tonga is in a critical position as Tongan citizens face several health issues while the nation’s health system struggles with a lack of resources. Today, the most pressing issues are non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the onset of COVID-19.

Overview of the Health Care System in Tonga

Primary financing for health care in Tonga comes from the government but the nation still relies significantly on donor funding. Data from 2019 shows that about 5% of the country’s GDP went toward health care, equal to $242 per capita. The health care system is small, both in workforce and infrastructure. In 2013, the ratio of physicians to citizens was about 0.54 per 1,000 citizens. Furthermore, in 2015, the country had “34 maternal and child health clinics, 14 health centers, three district hospitals and the tertiary referral hospital” in place.

The Effects of NCDs Tongan Health

Unfortunately, Tonga has an incredibly high rate of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with about 99.9% of the adult population facing a “moderate to high risk” of acquiring an NCD. In Tonga, about 80% of deaths are due to NCDs as compared to the global average of 70%. These diseases are not contagious and a combination of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle choices can cause them. Lifestyle choices such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, diet and lack of exercise stand as key causes of NCDs. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are among the main health concerns in Tonga. Fortunately, the government is aware of these issues and is working to combat these concerns.

Addressing the Prevalence of NCDs

Tonga’s current goal, in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is to decrease NCD-related deaths by one-third by the year 2030. Over the years, Tonga has put in place policies and strategies to address the prevalence of NCDs. For example, in 2004, Tonga became “the first Pacific Island country to launch a National NCDs strategy.” A few years later, in 2007, Tonga became “the first Pacific island country to set up an autonomous body to address NCDs,” also known as the Tonga Health Promotion Foundation or TongaHealth. TongaHealth is a non-governmental organization that is working to promote physical activity, improve diets and educate people about the consequences of alcohol and tobacco use.

According to the TongaHealth website, “TongaHealth uses evidence-based approaches to increase the knowledge, skills and resources of key organizations through advocacy for and promotion of healthy environments and healthy living.” In 2014, Tonga also received recognition from the World Health Organization (WHO) for its work regarding tobacco taxation and control.

What About COVID-19?

While many nations were plunged into a total crisis of chaos when COVID-19 emerged, Tonga remained completely untouched by COVID-19 until October 2021, about a year and a half after most countries had seen their first cases. Unfortunately, the Hunga Tonga volcanic eruption in January 2022 created a need for humanitarian aid and Tonga began to see COVID-19 cases rising due to contact during humanitarian efforts. In response to the natural disaster, as of January 25, 2022, Tonga has received around $2.5 million worth of aid from the United States as well as additional international aid from France, Australia and New Zealand.

As of March 15, 2022, Tonga has recorded 2,072 COVID-19 cases and two deaths. There is a strict lockdown in place and humanitarian aid endeavors aim to be as contactless as possible. If a larger breakout occurs, Tonga’s health care system may struggle due to its lack of resources and infrastructure, a situation that would prompt urgent COVID-19 relief.

Looking Ahead

With ongoing commitments to combating NCDs and strengthening the health care system, the future of health care in Tonga looks bright.

– Mia Sharpe
Photo: Flickr

Tonga’s Natural Disasters
In January 2022, Tonga underwent a series of natural disasters that left the country in a state of reparation due to the damage to homes, infrastructure and technological services. As the repairs from Tonga’s natural disasters are widespread and costly, in January 2022, the United States pledged more than $2.5 million in relief aid. The assistance from the U.S. to support reparation efforts will provide the Polynesian nation’s construction industry with significant opportunities for work, helping the country to recover quickly.

Damages From Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are common in Tonga, but January 2022 recorded a tsunami, a volcanic eruption and an earthquake. The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcanic eruption on January 15, 2022, was powerful enough to potentially claim the title of the strongest eruption on the island in at least the last 30 years, if not more. The eruption then triggered a tsunami on the same day, which caused flooding, fatalities, building destruction and a loss of electrical power for extended periods. The tsunami then led to an earthquake, the final natural disaster occurring on January 27, 2022.

The damages do not end with destroyed power and cable lines. However, the extensive dangers of repairing the cable services remain. The storm severed the main cable line connecting Tonga to the rest of the world. The cable line rests on coral reefs, which can be dangerous to navigate. While these details paint a grim picture of the country, Tonga’s construction industry and workforce, with the help of local and international aid volunteers, are ready to help rebuild the island nation.

Tonga Construction Industry and Workforce

In the wake of Tonga’s natural disasters, the construction industry plays a vital part in reparation efforts. Tonga’s construction industry plays a role in implementing some of the goals of the Tonga Strategic Development Framework (2015 -2025). The Framework is a plan to revitalize Tonga’s economy through construction and reconstruction efforts. Tonga aims to achieve this by lowering the costs of construction materials and labor and by making building structures more resilient to extreme climate conditions. The Tongan government especially pushed for these efforts after the destruction of Cyclone Gita in 2018, one of Tonga’s worst cyclones.

In 2020, Tonga’s construction industry contributed more than 14% to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). The last clarified national poverty rate was about 22% in 2015. New construction projects since 2018 have created new positions specifically for assisting with relief after Tonga’s natural disasters. Tonga’s natural disasters create a need for construction assistance across all areas of Tonga, including all outlying islands and the main island. The added positions offer jobs to Tongans of all age ranges and levels of educational attainment. The new jobs often come with training, supervision and in-field experience. Each new job is invaluable considering Tonga’s first month of storms in 2022. Foreign aid can also potentially increase the salaries of construction workers during these most recent reparation efforts, helping them to rise out of poverty.

Foreign Aid and the Path to Recovery

Tonga’s natural disasters often cause millions of dollars of damage. As an impoverished country, Tonga’s government lacks the funds necessary to finance reconstruction materials and pay construction workers. For this reason, Tonga relies heavily on international aid. First, the U.S. government pledged $100,000 in financial assistance on January 20, 2022, and less than a week later, on January 26, 2022, the U.S. government allocated $2.5 million to support Tonga’s recovery.

The path to recovery is not easy for Tonga, but the aid does not stop with the United States’ support. British and Australian ships entered Tongan waters in January 2022 to provide necessities such as medical supplies, water and food.

To earn international coverage and garner more support for Tonga, Tongan Olympian athletes, such as Pita Taufatofua, are using their influence to encourage people to donate to support relief efforts and use social media to bring global attention to the humanitarian situation in Tonga.

By beginning construction again, the Tongan economy will be on its way to recovery. Reconstruction and reparation will take time, but with the funds promised by foreign aid and allies, the nation is one step closer to recovery. Though Tonga’s natural disasters are unpredictable, international aid provides hope for relief each time.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in TongaTonga is a lower-middle-income Polynesian kingdom known for its 172 islands, 36 of which are permanently inhabited. Although child poverty in Tonga has greatly reduced, it remains a significant issue. Poverty continues to affect the children of Tonga in particular.

In 2015, 22.1% of the Tongan population lived below the poverty line. To put this into perspective, 4% of the Tongan population live on less than $1 daily and 6.7% of households fall below the dietary poverty line. Therefore, many families are unable to financially cover the cost of their daily food needs. Alarmingly, in most countries, there is a larger percentage of children in poverty than adults. This holds true with child poverty in Tonga, where 36% of children (~12,000 children) live in poverty compared to around 22% of adults (~63,000 adults). Poverty can impact multiple aspects of a child’s life, including their education and health. Consequently, many children in Tonga face disadvantages on account of poverty.


First, children are dropping out of school to support their families as a result of child poverty in Tonga. Around 8% of children live in a household that cannot afford to provide three meals a day for all their children, while 13% cannot afford daily fruit and vegetables.

When the most vulnerable families cannot afford food, they simply live off their own produce. As a result, children must drop out of school to work in fields and plantations. Regardless of Tonga’s excellent education record, students from impoverished backgrounds often remain in their parent’s positions to survive.

By missing the opportunity to receive an education, children feel the effects of poverty for a lifetime. Thankfully, Tonga’s government implemented the Tonga Education Support Program, which seeks “equitable access” and “universal basic education” for its children.

Nutrition and Obesity

Second, the cases of obesity and other non-communicable diseases in children are increasing. According to 2016 estimates, 17% of Tongan children are overweight. While data on childhood obesity is more limited, a 2010 school-based survey found that one in five surveyed students were obese.

Nutritious food and regular time intervals for children’s meals are necessary components of developmental health, which impacts children’s ability to live up to their potential as adults. Even with groups such as the Ma’alahi Youth Project, which aims to decrease rates of child obesity, a study found that community-based intervention is not sufficient in preventing the increase of unhealthy weights. Longer and more intense changes are necessary on a sociocultural level.


Third, children are at risk of communicable diseases. WHO Global Health Observatory data show gaps in immunization coverage for all 12 universally recommended vaccines in Tonga. Data reveals a downward trend in immunization rates for some vaccines. This could reflect either a reduction in uptake or access issues. From 2000 to the present day, WHO recorded a 10% decrease in rates for several vaccinations. Prescribed medication also provides a monetary barrier.

Additionally, a lack of basic sanitation, hygiene and safe drinking water is an issue of mortality in the Pacific region. This tends to contribute to the spread of water-related diseases like diarrhea and impedes child development. There is growing evidence that clean water and sanitation facilities at home and in schools can improve school attendance and even learning outcomes for boys and girls.

Key deficiencies have been filled with funding from the Australian Aid-funded Tonga Health Systems Support Program (THSSP), which helps address critical staff deficiencies and stipulates that the Ministry of Health focuses on preventative measures. Thankfully, data shows that improvements are visible. In 2012, nearly one in four children lived in a household that could not afford their prescribed medication. Today, 15% of children live in such a household, a decrease of 10%.

The decrease in child poverty in Tonga can, in part, be attributed to the community-level organizations fighting poverty in Tonga. The largest is the Tonga Family Health Association, followed by ‘Aloua Ma’a Tonga, Vaiola Hospital Board of Visitors and Tonga Red Cross. They aim to provide health services directly to households through financing, training and education. Despite moderate success, child poverty in Tonga persists. It seems additional work is needed to successfully eradicate poverty in what is known as “The Friendly Islands.”

Elizabeth Qiao
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Tonga
Tonga is a country located in the South Pacific Ocean, within the South Pacific archipelago. The sovereign state consists of a total of 176 islands that spread across 270,000 square miles, 36 of which contain a fast-growing population of 100,651 people. About 70% of the 100,651 people live on the main island, Tongatapu. While life expectancy is on the rise throughout the country, there are still many health concerns. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Tonga.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Tonga

  1. Life expectancy rates in Tonga have been steadily rising for the past 70 years. In 1950, the average life expectancy was 55.78 years. Today, the life expectancy is 70.97 years. As of 2018, male life expectancy was 68.9, and female life expectancy was 72.8. This is most likely due to improvements in sanitation, housing and education. According to the U.N.’s projections, Tonga’s life expectancy will continue to increase and grow to 74.30 by 2050.
  2. The leading cause of death for all ages in Tonga is non-communicable diseases (NCDs). According to the Tongan Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs account for the majority of deaths in Tonga. These include cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and more. Factors such as lack of physical activity, smoking daily, alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure and eating less than five servings of fruit and vegetables per day increase the risk of developing NCDs. Of the population, 60.7% is at high risk of developing or having an NCD and 39.2% at moderate risk. One study even found that one out of every ten hospital patients in Tonga was admitted due to an NCD.
  3. The NCD that kills most people in the country is coronary heart disease. The latest data from 2017 reports that of every 100,000 Tongans, 128.72 (16.64% of the population) die from coronary heart disease.
  4. Tonga’s fertility rate has been decreasing since the 1950s. However, despite the steady decrease, Tonga’s fertility rate remains high compared to other countries. In 1955, the fertility rate in Tonga was 7.3 births per woman. Today, it is currently at 3.2 births per woman. In comparison, in Australia, there were 3.0 births per woman in 1950 but only 1.86 births per woman in 2015.
  5. Obesity is extremely prevalent among Tonga’s population. An important risk factor to NCDs, obesity has been increasing in Tonga since 1975. In 1975, 47.8% of people 18 and older were obese. In 2016, the obesity rate had jumped to 75.6%. This year, Tonga ranks number two in the world for the highest body mass index (BMI) with its population having an average BMI of 31.9. Tonga falls just below the world’s most obese country, Nauru, which has a BMI of 32.5. Tonga’s obesity rate is due to a couple of factors, including low levels of physical activity and poor diets.
  6. The diet of Tongans plays an important role in the level of obesity throughout the country. Most Tongan’s diets once consisted of root vegetables, coconuts and fish. Since joining the global economy, diets have become highly processed and fatty. The average diet is now made up of rice, bread, canned fish, sugar, salt and packaged noodles.
  7. Tobacco use, another risk factor for NCDs, has been slowly decreasing in Tonga. In 2000, 36.3% of the population used tobacco. The most recently projected smoking rate puts tobacco use at 27.9%.
  8. Health-related issues make up most of Tonga’s other top causes of death. Other top causes of death in Tonga include diabetes (13.63%), stroke (9.91%), influenza and pneumonia (7.26%), breast cancer (2.83%) and lung disease (4.60%).
  9. More people have slowly moved into Tonga’s urban areas in recent years. In 1955, the urban population was at just 15%, while today the percentage has risen to 76%. This urbanization results in a more sedentary lifestyle, which, in turn, becomes a risk factor for developing obesity.
  10. Tonga is the first country in the Pacific Islands to develop a plan to fight obesity. In 2017, the Tongan government implemented a tax on imported foods in hopes of discouraging people from purchasing them. The tax included items such as mutton flaps, industrial chicken and turkey tails. There are also groups such as Tonga Health Promotion Foundation (TongaHealth) that fight obesity in hopes of improving life expectancy. TongaHealth was established in 2007 by the Health Promotion Foundation Act. Dedicated to the prevention of NCDs in Tonga, the group recognizes the urgency in the country’s rising number of NCDs. It fights the risks by focusing on educating the population on topics such as healthy eating, physical activity, tobacco control and alcohol control.

While life expectancy rates are on the rise in Tonga, there is still work to be done to improve the health of Tongans and further increase life expectancy. Tobacco use, alcohol use, a lack of physical activity and poor diet are all putting Tongans at risk for obesity and NCDs. Moving forward, the government and other humanitarian organizations must focus their efforts on improving health and life expectancy in Tonga.

– Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Tonga is a tropical group of islands located in the South Pacific. Tonga is rich with a vibrant culture and population and the islands are known for their tropical beauty. While the lives of Tongans have vastly improved in recent years, there is still much that can be done. These 10 facts about living conditions in Tonga showcase both the struggles that Tongans face on a daily basis as well as the positive aspects of life in the country.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Tonga

  1. Water quality is an issue – The majority of Tonga’s freshwater supply is in the form of groundwater, collected either through rainwater harvesting or limestone extraction. Because Tonga has no coordinated, centralized system for caring for waste, individuals and communities manage wastewater on-site. This presents difficulties in monitoring water quality and sanitation, making Tongans susceptible to parasites and waterborne diseases.
  2. Noncommunicable diseases are quite common among residents – Tonga used to face challenges with deaths caused by infectious diseases, but now the country is facing a new primary cause of death: non-communicable diseases. According to a 2008 report, non-communicable diseases accounted for more than 70 percent of deaths in Tonga during that year. These diseases include respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, as well as cancer and diabetes. However, the Tongan Government has begun to take action against this growing problem and recently launched the Tongan National Non-Communicable Disease Strategy, which sets out to reduce the number of individuals in Tonga with non-communicable diseases.
  3. Tongans have excellent access to healthcare and medicine – According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 100 percent of the population has access to health care and medicine. However, the quality and supply of these hospitals and medicines can be an issue in some of the more remote areas of the country, such as in the outer islands.
  4. Tonga has a small, but open, island economy – The country largely exports agricultural goods and fish. These items make up close to 80 percent of Tonga’s total exports. Tonga’s economy is also based around tourism, although this industry has faltered in recent years following the global economic crisis of 2008.
  5. Early education in Tonga is a priorityAlmost 95 percent of the resident population with children between the ages of 6 and 14 are enrolled in school. Once children reach the age of 15, however, school attendance decreases. Overall, almost 30 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 19 do not attend school. Along with this, female school attendance is generally higher than males. This gap only increases in secondary school, where female enrollment is 67.4 percent and male enrollment is only 54 percent. It has often been reported that, as they grow older, many boys who fail their exams have chosen to quit school altogether and help their families by working.
  6. Housing can be a problem – This can be largely attributed to the wet, tropical climate and severe weather found in the South Pacific region. A recent study found that one of the most prevalent types of structural damage to homes in urban parts of Tonga was water damage, which was characterized by mold growing predominantly in the sleeping and cooking areas of the homes. Furthermore, many homes are often destroyed because of the harsh weather. For example, in 2018, Tropical Cyclone Gita hit various parts of Tonga, affecting roughly 70 percent of the population and completely destroying over 1,000 homes.
  7. Child marriage is common – Between 2015 and 2017, more than 100 child marriages took place in Tonga. These marriages were able to take place because of specific sections from Tonga’s Births, Deaths and Marriage Registration Act of 1926 that allow children between the ages of 15 and 17 to be married if there is parental approval. However, in many of these situations, young girls are pressured into marriage due to parental desires or teen pregnancy. To help combat this, a campaign was launched in 2017 called “Let Girls be Girls!” The campaign, which is supported by the Tongan Ministry of Justice, hopes to repeal the law that currently allows child marriage in Tonga.
  8. Close to 60 percent of Tongans are dependent solely on agriculture for food – Though acreage for agricultural goods is increasing, production and quality is decreasing due to unsustainable agricultural practices, pests, diseases and increasing urbanization. Attempts have been made in the past to try and stabilize food security, but only recently have any methods proven effective. In 2015 the Tonga Framework for Action on Food Security (TFAFS) was developed to ensure food security as a top priority. TFAFS focuses on combining a variety of methods to address food security, focusing on both immediate and long-term solutions.
  9. About 25 percent of households in Tonga have incomes that are below the poverty line88 percent of Tonga’s population live in rural areas of the country, which experience the highest rates of poverty and harshest living conditions. The population in these rural areas has been slowly declining, however, and is expected to drop another 7 percent in the next 30 years. However, this decline may present some problems for the Tongan agricultural industry, which may face labor shortages.
  10. Tonga has a relatively young population – The median age in Tonga is only 23 years old, and more than one-third of the population is 14 or younger. Additionally, just over 6 percent of the population is over the age of 65. However, life expectancy is slowly increasing in Tonga, and as of 2017, the average life expectancy had risen to 73 years old.

These 10 facts about living conditions in Tonga demonstrate the progress that the country has made in improving the lives of its people. Though there is still much work to be done, Tonga is working hard to become a strong, self-reliant nation.

– Melissa Quist
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Education in Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is located in the Pacific Ocean and has a population of approximately 109,008. Despite its small size, the country has made continuous improvements to its educational system. Keep reading to learn the top eight facts about education in Tonga.

8 Facts About Education in Tonga

  1. A Colonial Past – The school system that currently exists in Tonga was first established by Wesleyan missionaries in 1826. The primary language of the country is Tongan, a dialect of Polynesian, but English is also spoken as a secondary language and is taught as such in schools.
  2. Compulsory Education – Since 1876, the first eight years of education in Tonga has been compulsory for all Tongan children beginning at age 6. Tonga has divided its education system to include six years at the primary level, three at the junior and three at the senior secondary level.
  3. Free Education – Primary and secondary schools for students from ages 6 to 14 attend government-sponsored schools for free.  In 2004, 3.91 percent of Tonga’s GDP was allotted to spending on education in Tonga. This is a decrease from 5.59 percent in 1998.
  4. High Literacy Rates – The efforts of the Tongan government to create a strong base of literacy within the country has been widely successful. In 1996, the adult literacy rate of Tonga was 98.5 percent. That number has now risen to 99.0 percent in 2018, making Tonga one of the leaders of adult literacy of the nations in the Pacific.
  5. Girls’ Education – In 2015, girls were enrolled at higher rates than boys at all three levels of education. Enrollment in primary school was at 94 percent for girls and 92 percent for boys in 2015. This number dropped roughly 10 percentage points for each gender going into lower secondary schools.
  6. Ministry of Education – The Ministry of Education works to create and maintain a system of strong education in Tonga. The Ministry manages all of the government schools in the country at all education levels and ensures that the private schools within the country adhere to the national standards of education. There are two main exams that the Ministry of Education administers to all students. The first is the Tonga School Certificate. This exam is taken by students at the end of their fifth year while they are in secondary school. The second major state exam is the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate, which is taken by students at the end of secondary schooling. Both exams serve as a measure of the thoroughness of a student’s education. The exams are administered in English, though they do emphasize knowledge of Tongan culture.
  7. Brain Drain – Following the conclusion of their secondary school education, many young scholars from Tonga seek their tertiary education abroad at universities in Australia or New Zealand. Upon completion of their degrees at university, most Tongan scholars remain in Australia or New Zealand to live and work and do not return to their homes in Tonga. In 2018, approximately 25 percent of those who furthered their education within Tonga now exist below the poverty line.
  8. Plan for Educational Improvement – Beginning in 2003, Tonga began a project for educational reform that focuses on providing access to a strong education for all Tongans. The Tonga Education Support Program (TESP) has two tiers. TESP I aims to improve equitable access to education up to Year 8, to improve education past primary school and to improve the administration of Tongan schools. TESP II aims to maximize the amount of learning that students can find within Tongan schools, to increase the teaching abilities of teachers and to improve educational facilities. The Tongan government has received financial contributions from Australia and New Zealand to do so.

Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr

Top 5 Reasons for School Dropouts in Tonga
Tonga, a Polynesian country and archipelago comprising of total 169 islands (36 inhabited) has achieved tremendous progress in improving the nation’s primary school enrollment. Although these rates are high, the school completion rates continue to decrease. About 3,000 Tongan students drop out of secondary school each year. In the text below, the top five reasons for school dropouts in Tonga are presented.

Top Five Reasons for School Dropouts in Tonga

  1. Due to tight household budgets, Tongan youths are now looking to get into the workforce as soon as possible. Dropping out of school and entering the workforce is deemed necessary when household funds are low because income is needed in order to survive. It was reported that 25 percent of Tongan households live under the poverty line, not having enough money to provide for basic needs. Male dropout rates are higher compared to female dropout rates. It is important to note that there is a higher percentage of men that participate in the workforce compared to women.
  2. About 88 percent of Tongans live in rural areas, therefore, Tonga’s remote location is driving Tongan youths to search for employment opportunities in other countries such as New Zealand and Australia. Dropping out of school to look for employment opportunities in different countries is more appealing than attending and graduating from school because graduating doesn’t necessarily guarantee employment in Tonga. Tonga is currently struggling to keep up with the high demand for jobs.
  3. Religion plays a huge role in many Tongan households and it is an important cultural factor that can affect whether or not Tongan youths continue their education. In many Tongan households, most of their money is spent on personal expenses, emergencies, church donations and education. Church donations were the second most popular use of mobile money transfers and remittances. Education tends to come in last on that list due to the importance of necessities and their devotion to the church. Since household budgets are tight, there may not be enough income or it is not seen as a top priority for Tongan youths to continue their education.
  4. The lack of diverse and targeted vocational training programs in Tonga is driving Tongan youth to look for employment and educational opportunities elsewhere. Many Tongan youths become disinterested and drop out of school because they are seeking vocational programs that will equip them with skills that will help them into the workforce. Unfortunately, Tonga is not yet able to offer Tongan youths these options.
  5. About 70 percent of Tongan adults reported receiving remittances from migrant family members and relatives. Remittances have become a very common source of income for many Tongan households. Tongan youths see the importance and dependency of remittances in their households, therefore, it is seen as one of the only options to provide for their families. This also pushes Tongan youths to drop out of school.

Work of Nongovernmental Organizations

Various nongovernmental organizations have been working on providing employment and education opportunities for Tongan youths. The Skills Employment for Tongans Project aims to help the Tongan government to create a cash transfer program to help Tongan households with their tight household budgets. It also will provide technical and vocational education training courses to help Tongan youths establish skills that will allow them to become employable in Tonga and in other countries.

The Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning Project (PEARL). The goals of this organization are to help children gain skills that will prepare them for school and help them learn to read and write for their first years of primary school. Preparing Tongan children at an early age will help implement the idea that education is important.

These top five reasons for school dropouts in Tonga are still problems that the nation of Tonga is facing, but the Tongan government is getting help from various nongovernmental organizations in trying to keep up with the high demand for employment and educational opportunities. It is a difficult task, but with the joint effort of government and NGOs, as well as other countries, this can be achieved.

– Jocelyn Aguilar

Photo: Flickr

U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Tonga
By looking at Tonga and the United States on a map, it would seem the two countries share very little in common. However, despite their apparent differences, the U.S. and Tonga share a deep relationship and align closely with a number of important global issues.

U.S. and Tonga Relations

Evidence of this relationship is shown through U.S. foreign aid to Tonga, aid which directly and indirectly comes back to benefit the U.S. This aid takes various forms, including grants from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to help Tonga recover from natural disasters and grants from USAID to support climate proofing the vulnerable island country.

Tonga also receives Foreign Military Financing, providing the opportunity for Tongan officers to come to the U.S. for training and education, fostering a close relationship between U.S. and Tongan armed forces. The U.S. also provides $21 million per year to Pacific island countries, including Tonga, in accordance to the Tuna Fisheries Treaty, which gives U.S. fishing vessels access to Pacific island fisheries.


In purely economic terms, the benefit is relatively minimal. Although the U.S. is one of Tonga’s primary trade partners and runs a trade surplus with the island country, the surplus is only about $11 million annually. However, the trade surplus and role of the U.S. as a primary trading partner with Tonga does indicate that U.S. foreign aid to Tonga has played a part in establishing closer economic ties between the two countries.


The biggest way the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Tonga is stability, both in the Pacific region and the world. When foreign aid is injected into a country to help it recover from a disaster, or to help it become more self-sufficient, everybody wins. In such a case, foreign aid has a stabilizing effect, preventing large migrations, saving lives and helping to prevent future disasters. The result, besides the obvious humanitarian benefit and lives saved, is the stabilization of a volatile region and the fostering of a close ongoing relationship looking towards the future between the recipient and the donor of aid. In this case, the U.S. benefits greatly from a stable and closely aligned Tonga for various reasons. On one hand, friendly relations with Tonga and the U.S. allows for mutually beneficial cooperation between both countries, such as access to Tongan tuna fisheries by U.S. fishing vessels.

Friendly Relations

Friendly relations between the U.S. and Tonga, as facilitated by U.S. foreign aid to Tonga, also benefit the U.S. by giving it a close ally in the Pacific, a highly important geopolitical area. The importance of Tonga as a U.S. ally was recently reinforced during the RIMPAC military exercises in the Pacific. Among 26 nations to join the exercise, Tonga was the only country from the Pacific islands to participate. The inclusion of Tonga in such an important exercise indicates its importance to the U.S., while also demonstrating how U.S. foreign aid has brought the two nations together.

The most important takeaway from analyzing the relationship between the U.S. and Tonga is that foreign aid from the U.S. has been mutually beneficial. Because of U.S. support, Tonga has been able to recover faster from natural disasters and is working with the U.S. in preventing such disasters in the future. In return, the U.S. has gained a valuable ally in the Pacific.

– Taylor Pace
Photo: Flickr