Last Updated 10 November 2016

Vanuatu is small island nation spread 85 small islands in the south Pacific.  It has a population of around 267,000 people.  Formerly known as the New Hebrides, it was under joint British and French administration until it attained independence in the 1980s.  The small country is home to as many as 112 languages.

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Constitution and government

The constitution is largely secular, though its preamble might exclude non-believers –

“proclaim the establishment of the united and free Republic of Vanuatu founded on traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles”

The document recognises “freedom of conscience and worship” as a fundamental right.  Government officials are allowed to choose between a religious oath and a non-religious affirmation.


86% of the population is Christian, a product of 19th century missionaries from Europe.  There are small communities of Muslims and there are significant minorities of indigenous religious adherents.   Up to 5% of Vanuatuans belong to the John Frum movement, a religious and political organization that has it’s origins in a cargo cult that based it’s religious practices on the activities of US servicemen who served on the Island in the late 1930s.  A similar but smaller cult idolises Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.  Those identifying as “none” represent about 1.1% of the population.

Education and children’s rights

The government provides funding to religious schools and pays teacher’s salaries.  These benefits are not available to the few non-Christian religious schools in the country.  Religious education is also dominated by Christianity though pupils have the right the right to abstain from RE classes.

Family, community and society

Abortion remains illegal in Vanuatu with the penal code setting a sentence of 2 years for any women who would “intentionally procure her own miscarriage”.  There are studies that suggest that there has been an increase in the number of illegal and often dangerous abortions.  Pressure from religious groups has slowed any reform of this issue.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

“Insult” to religion

The country’s penal code sets a sentences of 2 years for insults to religion, defilement or destruction of religious objects and disrupting a religious assembly.

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