People's Stories Children's Rights

Climate change inaction: Our political leaders have failed us
by Greta Thunberg
Unicef, news agencies
4 Dec. 2018
A Swedish teenager who inspired students around the world to walk out of their classrooms over climate change inaction has sharply criticised world leaders at a major UN climate summit.
Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg travelled to Katowice, Poland, for the COP24 talks and delivered a speech on Monday to UN leader António Guterres and other decision-makers at the conference.
"We are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness ... Our political leaders have failed us," Ms Thunberg said.
Ms Thunberg made headlines in Sweden for leaving school each Friday and sitting outside parliament to urge leaders to do more to tackle climate change.
Her activism inspired young people in other countries to take similar action. School strikes have spread to at least 270 towns and cities in countries across the world.
“For 25 years countless people have come to the UN climate conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future,” she said. “I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.”
“Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago,” she said. “We have to understand what the older generation has dealt to us, what a mess they have created that we have to clean up and live with. We have to make our voices heard.”
"Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly means nothing to our leaders?" she told COP24.
"So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again... And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago."
The conference of nearly 200 nations taking place in Poland, main task is to turn the vision of tackling global warming agreed in Paris in 2015 into concrete action. On Monday, Sir David Attenborough told the summit that without action “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”.
Thunberg, who met with the UN secretary general, António Guterres, on Monday, said: “What I hope we achieve at this conference is that we realise that we are facing an existential threat. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. First we have to realise this and then as fast as possible do something to stop the emissions and try to save what we can save.”
* Greta''s twitter feed:
30 Nov. 2018
School students on mass strike to protest climate change inaction. (SMH, agencies)
Thousands of Australian school students have defied calls by the Prime Minister to stay in school and instead marched on the nation''s capital cities, and in regional centres, demanding an end to political inertia on climate change.
"The politicians aren''t listening to us when we try to ask nicely for what we want and for what we need," said Castlemaine student Harriet O''Shea Carre.. "So now we have to go to extreme lengths and miss out on school."
The groundswell was inspired by 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who pledged to protest outside parliament in Stockholm until the country caught up on its commitments under the Paris Agreement.
News of her vigil caught the attention of Harriet O''Shea Carre and Milou Albrecht, both 14. The pair, from the Castlemaine School, and a group of other climate-concerned teenagers travelled to the nearby regional city of Bendigo, about 90 minutes from Melbourne, to hold their own protest outside the office of their local senator. That in turn sparked friday''s protests across the nation.
"We have to sacrifice our education, which is something we really value, so we''re showing them that at the moment this is even more important than our education," Harriet O''Shea Carre said.
"We have tried so many other ways, we''ve tried just asking, we''ve tried telling them, and so we really just need to show them now so we''re just going to keep pushing and keep trying because its our world."
In Adelaide, 300 students rallied at South Australia''s Parliament House. Organiser Deanna Athanosos, who is in year 10, said Prime Minister Morrison''s criticism towards the student strike made her laugh. "If you were doing your job properly, we wouldn''t be here," she said.
Year eight student Zel Whiting also took aim at the Prime Minister. He said he was increasingly frustrated with the Government and its "lack of awareness or activity on climate change and its dangers".
"Mr Morrison says schools are not parliament," he said. "Mr Morrison, take a seat. You are about to be schooled. "If everybody can contribute things that help the environment, such as using less plastics and not leaving your lights on — very small things — if everybody in Australia did that, we could really make a difference," he said.
One parent, Trent, who was at the protest with his eight-year-old child and their friends said: "They''ve actually been looking at climate change at school and they have a pretty good understanding of the science," he told ABC Radio Melbourne. "I heard students today at the rally talking about the IPCC report, talking about the 700 odd days until emissions can peak before we exceed 1.5 degrees".
"These are kids that actually understand the urgency of the science in a way that I think most of the parliamentarians don''t."
Students packed the Martin Place amphitheatre in Sydney''s CBD, waving placards and chanting loudly. "What do we want? Climate action. When do we want it? Now," they sang.
Jean Hinchliffe, 14, a student at Fort Street High in Petersham said she was striking "to tell our politicians to stop all new coal and gas projects, including Adani’s coal mine, and take immediate action to move Australia to 100 per cent renewable energy".
"As a generation, we are sick of those in power failing to stop the climate crisis. We’ve spent our entire lives hearing the dire warnings. Our future is on the line."
Ella, 10, said, "I think it''s stupid that no one has done anything. We could already have solar energy and yet we''re still using coal."
The protests took place as 120 bushfires burned in the state of Queensland, with 45C temperatures.
Sep. 2018
Children among most vulnerable as extreme weather events continue around the world. Record heatwaves, floods, droughts a stark vision of the world for future generations, writes Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Programmes
The large number of extreme weather events around the world, including floods in southern India, wildfires in the western United States and heatwaves across much of the northern hemisphere, are putting children in immediate danger, as well as jeopardizing their futures, UNICEF warned today.
“In any crisis, children are among the most vulnerable, and the extreme weather events we are seeing around the world are no exception,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Programmes. “Over the past few months, we have seen a stark vision of the world we are creating for future generations. “As more extreme weather events increase the number of emergencies and humanitarian crises, it is children who will pay the highest price,” he added.
June and July saw record high temperatures set across much of the northern hemisphere, with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reporting the first six months of the year have made it the hottest La Niña year on record.
From North America to East Asia, and from the Arctic Circle to Europe, large parts of the globe have experienced heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, and landslides resulting in injury and loss of life, environmental damage and widespread loss to livelihoods including harvest losses. Countries in Central America and the Caribbean are preparing for the peak of the hurricane season while still trying to recover from the devastating 2017 season, which was the costliest on record.
While individual weather events cannot specifically be attributed to climate change, the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather -- including recent high temperatures, intense rains and slow-moving weather fronts -- are in line with predictions of how human activities are affecting the global climate.
Such events can cause death and devastation, and can also contribute to the increased spread of major killers of children, such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea. And as these extreme climate events increase in frequency and magnitude, the risks to children will likely outpace global capacity to mitigate them as well as to provide humanitarian response.
“As the world experiences a steady rise in climate-driven extreme weather events, it is children’s lives and futures that will be the most disrupted,” added Chaiban. “Therefore, it’s vital that Governments and the international community take concrete steps to safeguard children’s future and their rights. The worst impacts of climate change are not inevitable, but the time for action is now.”
Numerous studies have documented that human-induced climate change has increased the frequency and severity of heatwaves across the globe. Children are especially at risk as they adjust more slowly than adults to changes in environmental heat, and are more susceptible to heat-related health risks, with children under 12 months old particularly vulnerable.
Infants and small children are more likely to die or suffer from heatstroke because they are unable to regulate their body temperature and control their surrounding environment. Extreme heat conditions also increase the need for safe and reliable drinking water, while in many cases rendering such water more scarce through evaporation.
Floods threaten children’s survival and development, with direct impacts including injuries and death by drowning. Beyond these immediate risks, floods compromise safe water supplies and damage sanitation facilities, increasing the risk of diarrhoea and other disease outbreaks, as well as impacting children’s access to education.
Damage to housing endangers children’s well-being, particularly if emergency shelter is either scarce or inadequate. It also destroys infrastructure, making it difficult to move lifesaving assistance where needed.
Droughts have multiple effects on poor families and communities. Crops fail, livestock die and income drops, leading to food insecurity for the poor as well as rising food prices globally. Water becomes scarce and the lack of food and water, as well as inequitable access to these necessities, can result in migration and social disorder, with children among the most vulnerable to the consequences of these effects.
* The impact of climate change on children:


Briefing: Children''s rights and toxics
by Child Rights International Network
Oct. 2018
"We just don’t understand it: why do adults tell us the environment is so important and still treat it so badly? They care about other things like money and their possessions but it seems they don’t care about destroying nature." - Children addressing the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2016.
Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) children are entitled to live, learn and grow in a physical environment that facilitates health, play, and education, and is free from undue risk. These rights are violated daily by toxic substances – especially in the air, water, soil, and consumer products – that harm millions of children worldwide.
This briefing outlines the causes and extent of the problem, and proposes an approach towards effective remedy and prevention.
All humans are vulnerable to the effects of exposure to toxic substances (hereafter toxics), but children are more susceptible than adults on account of their smaller bodies and particular behavioural habits. Children consume more food and water relative to their weight, absorb toxics more readily, and are less able to excrete them afterwards. For example, young children absorb between four and five times as much lead as adults. Contact with toxics also impairs development, particularly of the lungs, brain, the immune system, and fertility, which are especially vulnerable to environmental influences in childhood.
These risks affect all children, including in economically developed countries. However, the problem is magnified by factors associated with poverty and other forms of marginalisation. The poorer health associated with economic deprivation reduces children’s resilience to the effects of toxics, particularly when children are malnourished, while the weaker regulation of industry and agriculture in poorer countries allows conditions of high toxicity to persist in places where children live, learn and play.
Children have higher levels of exposure and are also more sensitive to it, which makes them more vulnerable than adults. Such impacts can be irreversible and can even be passed down from one generation to the next.
The greatest global medium of toxic exposure is polluted air, of which the main causes are: burning fossil fuels for energy, manufacturing, and transport; burning solid fuel in the home such as coal or wood; second-hand cigarette smoke; and airborne agricultural chemicals such as pesticides.
Nine out of ten people on the planet are now breathing unsafe ambient air, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and four out of ten cook using open fires in the home, which produce high concentrations of pollutants. For these reasons, air pollution is responsible for five percent of all deaths annually, according to the WHO. Air quality is worsening in affluent countries, but people in poorer countries still suffer by far the worst conditions.
In certain localities, the air, water, and soil are particularly polluted, such as in industrial zones, areas of industrial agriculture, and derelict sites of war, where children may be exposed continuously to hazardous concentrations of contaminants. For example, 60 percent of child labourers worldwide work in agriculture, where pesticides are known to harm the health of millions of farmworkers every year. Children working on tobacco farms in the United States suffer symptoms of pesticide exposure and nicotine poisoning.
Similarly, street children who collect electronic waste from rubbish dumps inhale a cocktail of toxics when they burn off the plastics to harvest scraps of saleable metals. Whereas middle- and high-income households are likely to move away from highly polluted localities, poorer families cannot, and so their children bear the brunt of the exposure.
Children’s behavioural habits, combined with their heightened susceptibility to toxics, increase the impact of exposure. Unlike adults, children play on the ground, and often in watercourses, exploring their physical world through touch and taste. On account of their age, children are also less able to appreciate and evaluate risks, or to read and pay attention to written warnings. For all these reasons, younger children are especially vulnerable.
Exposure even begins before children are born; one study found an average of 200 hazardous substances in the blood of umbilical cords in a group of US-born babies, due to their mother’s exposure to polluted environments. This example illustrates well one of the challenges that toxics present: except for acute exposure to high doses, harmful exposure is not immediately evident. In fact, paediatricians refer to the present state of the impacts of pollution and contamination on children’s health as a “silent pandemic”.
In London, United Kingdom, a study revealed that tens of thousands of children at more than 800 schools, nurseries and colleges were being exposed to illegal levels of air pollution that risk causing lifelong health problems.
The health impact of toxics leads to secondary effects that engage children’s other fundamental rights. Sickness can prevent children from attending school and, later, going to work, for example, while exposure to certain substances, such as lead, can irreversibly impair brain development and thus retard children’s learning. Children may also be prevented entirely from playing outside, such as on days when air pollution reaches hazardous levels.
Known toxics and their effects
The actual and potential toxic effects of synthesised compounds and chemical elements released artificially from industrial processes are still not well understood. Hundreds of common substances are now known to be biologically or ecologically toxic, most of them previously believed to be safe. Three now-ubiquitous substances are especially harmful to humans, especially children on account of their heightened susceptibility.
Asbestos. Asbestos has been used extensively all over the world, particularly as a building material. Its microscopic fibres are the cause of debilitating respiratory conditions including the aggressive lung cancer, mesothelioma. The WHO estimated in 2004 that 125 million people are exposed to asbestos risks at work, leading to a high global burden of disease and 107,000 deaths annually. Asbestos is banned in the European Union but, in general, not elsewhere.
Pesticides. Most of the global population has been exposed to pesticides to differing degrees, mainly by inhaling airborne compounds, consuming them in food, and drinking contaminated water. Exposure has been linked to neurological diseases, degraded cognitive function, cancer, loss of fertility, and, particularly in children, impaired brain development. Each year, pesticides affect the health of as many as 41 million people and are responsible for 200,000 deaths through acute poisoning. Even low doses can be harmful, the effects typically not becoming apparent until years later.
Lead. A heavy metal, lead is used all over the world for a wide range of industrial applications: in batteries, water pipes and cisterns, paints, petroleum, and cable sheaths, for example. It becomes airborne through heating, can also contaminate soil and water, accumulates in organisms, and does not break down in the environment. Lead negatively affects the development of intelligence in children, even at low levels, and has been associated with behavioural problems and blood diseases.
In 2009 the WHO estimated that lead exposure was responsible for 143,000 deaths annually and accounted for 0.6 percent of the world’s entire burden of disease.
Two further chemical elements—mercury and cadmium—are present in hazardous concentrations in certain localities, particularly near heavy industry and especially mines. Cadmium is also released through cigarette smoke, and mercury is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned.
Like lead, mercury is dangerous even in small quantities, builds up in the food chain, and impairs brain development in children. Cadmium is carcinogenic and harms the kidneys and respiratory system.
According to the WHO, the five substances described above are among the nine chemicals that pose the greatest risks to public health (besides air pollution). The others are arsenic dissolved in drinking water, benzine in petrochemical products and tobacco, dioxins in food, and excessive (or insufficient) fluoride, all of which pose similar health risks, and especially to children.
Most children’s exposure is typically at a low daily level, but chronic, and involves a ‘cocktail’ of hundreds of common hazardous substances. The pollution in urban ambient air is likely to include lead, cadmium, mercury, benzine, carcinogenic silicates, and various toxic gases, which combine to magnify the harm to children, as well as to unborn children who are “pre-polluted” through expectant mothers’ exposure. In industrial and agro-industrial areas, hazardous chemicals are found in stronger concentrations, greatly increasing the risks.
The ecological dimension
Alongside the direct impact of toxics on human health, they also poison and degrade the ecosystem on which children and their families depend for food and work. Heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury, are readily distributed in watercourses and the soil, where they accumulate in animals and plants, including the human food chain.
The build-up of mercury in fish stocks has exceeded safe levels in 66 countries, for example, particularly affecting coastal communities that depend on fish for protein.
On land, repeated use of pesticides can exhaust and poison the soil and rivers, and kill off ecologically crucial organisms such as wild bees.
In China, one-fifth of farmland is now contaminated by pesticides and heavy metals and 35,000 square kilometres of previously productive land is now unusable.
Such damage to the life of the land, rivers and sea undermines access to sufficient healthy food, which particularly affects children’s development, while creating economic pressures on families whose income depends on a healthy ecosystem, such as farm workers.
In addition to harming children’s health, ecological degradation caused by toxic substances jeopardises the food security and long-term economic prospects of millions of children around the world.
Quantifying the impact
The WHO estimated in 2017 that 1.7 million annual deaths of children aged under five—a quarter of all infant deaths worldwide—are attributable to their physical environment, particularly air and water pollution, and poor sanitation.
More than half a million infant children die from respiratory problems, mainly attributable to polluted air, a greater toll even than that caused by malaria. The WHO estimates that children under five suffer 161 million person-years of illness due to causes associated with their physical environment. In addition, an unquantifiable number of children suffer subtle degradations in health, such as diminished intelligence due to low levels of lead exposure, for example.
Children who survive exposure suffer retarded development and a burden of disease that can last into adulthood, jeopardising their economic prospects for the rest of their lives.
Clearly, the impact of toxics in the environment has a sweeping, severe—and according to the WHO, entirely preventable—impact on children, particularly in the world’s poorest regions.
Children’s rights
Toxic exposure materially and unambiguously violates a wide range of children’s rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other treaties. In view of children’s elevated susceptibility relative to adults, the Convention imposes enhanced obligations on States to safeguard them from harmful toxic exposure, as follows:
Rights related to children’s exposure. First among these are the rights to life, to “the highest attainable standard of health” and to develop as persons “to the maximum extent possible”.
Exposure to toxics is also likely to breach several other rights under the Convention, including: to recreation and play, to education (when sickness, or the risk of it, caused by toxic exposure prevents children from going to school), and to information (about toxicants and their effects).
UN Special Rapporteur on toxics Baskut Tuncak also refers to the right to physical and mental integrity in his report on children’s rights and toxics, explaining that this right encapsulates the right of each human being, including children, to autonomy and self-determination over his or her own body.
He further develops that a non-consensual physical or mental intrusion against the body constitutes a human rights violation and concludes that this right is implicated by human exposure to toxics, whether this is acute poisoning or low-level exposure to toxic substances.
According to the Special Rapporteur, the right to be heard is also inextricable from public health and environmental threats such as toxics and pollution. Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prescribes that every child capable of forming this or her own views has a right to be heard and to influence decision-making processes that may be relevant in his or her life.
This right is closely linked with the question of consent, explains the Special Rapporteur, and with the phenomenon of children being born “pre-polluted”. He urges States to prevent childhood exposure, in recognition of the right of present and future generations to be heard.
In addition, children who encounter toxics through work are engaged in hazardous labour, which is unlawful. Notably, these include nearly 100 million agricultural child labourers worldwide, most of whom are exposed to pesticides, and one million children working in mines..
* Access the full briefing via the link below.

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