People's Stories Children's Rights

Child petitioners file complaint protesting lack of government action on climate crisis
by Charlotte Petri Gornitzka
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director
23 Sep. 2019
Sixteen child petitioners – including Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Villasenor – from 12 countries around the world today presented a landmark official complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to protest lack of government action on the climate crisis.
The child petitioners – aged between 8 to 17 – allege that Member States’ failure to tackle the climate crisis constitutes a violation of child rights. They urge the independent body to order Member States to take action to protect children from the devastating impacts of climate change.
“Change needs to happen now if we are to avoid the worst consequences. The climate crisis is not just the weather. It means also, lack of food and lack of water, places that are unliveable and refugees because of it. It is scary,” said Greta Thunberg.
The complaint was filed through the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a voluntary mechanism which allows children or adults on their behalf to appeal directly to the United Nations for help if a country that has ratified the Protocol fails to provide a remedy for a rights violation.
Announced at a press conference hosted at UNICEF Headquarters in New York, the complaint aims to inspire the urgent action needed to curb global heating and mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.
“Thirty years ago, world leaders made a historic commitment to the world’s children by adopting the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today, the world’s children are holding the world accountable to that commitment,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.
“We fully support children exercising their rights and taking a stand. Climate change will impact every single one of them. It’s no wonder they are uniting to fight back.”
In addition to Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, and Alexandria Villaseńor, the 14-year-old American climate activist, the 14 other child petitioners are from Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Marshall Islands, Nigeria, Palau, South Africa, Sweden, Tunisia and the United States. They are represented by global law firm Hausfeld LLP and Earthjustice.
UNICEF supports the child petitioners exercising their right to bring complaints via the communication procedure of the Third Optional Protocol. However, UNICEF is not a party to the complaint. UNICEF is neutral and plays no part in the adjudication process by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Sep. 2019
UN child rights committee voices support for children campaigning on climate change
The United Nations Committee which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Friday welcomed children campaigning on climate change, and stressed they have a legal right “to have their views listened to and taken into account.”
“The children have told us that they see the future of the planet as one of the major issues facing them,” said the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Luis Pedernera. “Children are already negatively impacted by pollution, droughts, other natural disasters, health risks, and degradation of ecosystems, and we welcome the passionate engagement of children in relation to these issues.”
Saying it was “inspired by the millions of children and adolescents who marched for climate change last week,” the Committee – which has regularly addressed the environment, climate change and the degradation of the planet – welcomed “the active and meaningful participation of children, as human rights defenders, in relation to issues of concern to them along with everyone else.”
According to article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – which has been ratified by every State except one – children must be at the centre of the discourse on climate change and their opinion should be listened to and taken into account. “As the beneficiaries of today’s decisions they have a central role to play,” the Committee said.
The Committee further stressed that the Convention gives children the right to freedom of expression. As a result, “any threat or abuse of children for their oral or written expression is unacceptable. Children must be free to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, and they should be safe when doing so.”
During this 30th anniversary of the Convention, the Committee called for children to be embraced as active participants and owners of decisions being made that will impact on their future well-being. All children around the world should benefit from the same protection of their rights. “In this regard,” the Committee said, “we call on the United States of America to ratify the Convention to ensure universal ratification.”
“Children are the most affected by the actions or inactions of leaders today,” the Committee added.
* Speech delivered by Greta Thunberg to the UN Climate Action summit:
'' This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones.
People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.
The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.
So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.
To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes.
How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.
There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.
You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not''.

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Every 11 seconds, a pregnant woman or newborn dies somewhere around the world
by WHO, Unicef, UNFPA, agencies
Sep. 2019
An estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes, according to new mortality estimates released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Division, UNFPA and the World Bank Group.
For mothers and their babies, the period surrounding birth is a particularly vulnerable time. For mothers, complications leading to maternal death can occur without warning at any time during pregnancy and childbirth. In 2017, according to the latest estimates, over 800 women died each day from complications in pregnancy and childbirth, or over 290,000.
Likewise, for newborns, the first 28 days of life – the neonatal period –are critical for a child’s survival. Children face the highest risk of dying in their first month of life. In 2018, 7,000 newborn babies died every day. About a third died on the day they were born and nearly three quarters in the first week alone. According to the latest estimates on child mortality, newborns accounted for around half of the 5.3 million under-five child deaths in 2018.
“Around the world, birth is a joyous occasion. Yet, every 11 seconds, a birth is a family tragedy,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth, along with clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the difference between life and death. We must do all it takes to invest in universal health coverage to save these precious lives.”
The following provides more information on how mothers and newborn babies are most vulnerable during child birth, and other key takeaways from the latest update of the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME):
Neonatal mortality is declining at a slower rate than under-five mortality: Globally, the average annual rate of reduction in the neonatal mortality rate was 2.6 per cent from 1990 to 2018, compared to 3.6 for older children under five years. Across all regions, the annual rate of reduction from 1990 to 2018 was higher for children aged 1–59 months than for newborns.
Great inequities persist between countries: In sub-Saharan Africa, levels of maternal deaths are nearly 50 times higher for women and their babies are 10 times more likely to die in their first month of life, compared to high-income countries, the estimates show.
Sub-Saharan Africa is lagging behind: Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest neonatal mortality rate in 2018 at 28 deaths per 1,000 live births, followed by Central and Southern Asia with 25 deaths per 1,000 live births. The risk of dying for a newborn in sub-Saharan Africa is about 33 times higher than in the lowest mortality country. A sub-Saharan African woman faces a 1 in 37 life time risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.
Newborn deaths often account for a larger share of under-five deaths at lower under-five mortality levels: In Europe and Northern America, which has one of the lowest under-five mortality rates among all regions, 54 per cent of all under-five deaths occur during the neonatal period.
Most newborns and pregnant women die due to preventable and treatable reasons: Newborns die largely because they are born too soon or too small, have complications during birth or congenital defects, or contract tetanus or sepsis.
Most children under 5 die due to preventable or treatable causes – such as complications during birth, premature birth, pneumonia, diarrhea and neonatal sepsis.
Maternal deaths are caused by obstetric complications such as high blood pressure during pregnancy and severe bleeding or infections during or after childbirth; and increasingly due to an existing disease or condition aggravated by the effects of pregnancy.
In total, almost 6.2 million children under 15 died in 2018: Globally, 85 per cent of deaths among children and young adolescents in 2018 occurred in the first five years of life.
2.5 million occurred in the first month of life, and four million in the first year. Another 1.3 million occurred between ages 1 and 4 and an additional 0.9 million deaths occurred among children aged 5-14 years.
Progress is possible: Since 1990, there has been a 56 per cent reduction in deaths of children under 15 years from 14.2 million deaths to 6.2 million in 2018. Countries in Eastern and South-East Asia have made the most progress, with an 80 per cent decline in under-five deaths. And from 2000 to 2017, maternal mortality ratio declined by 38 per cent.
We need to act now: Unless we act now, 62 million children under age 15 will die between 2019 and 2030, including 52 million children under 5. Almost half of these under-five deaths will be among newborns.
Through its global campaign, Every Child ALIVE, which demands solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns, UNICEF urges governments, the private sector and civil society to:
Increase funding and awareness particularly in areas that will improve newborn and maternal health and address key killers of children such as pneumonia and diarrhea;
Develop the skills of health workers and ensure they have the equipment to provide high quality care that meets the health needs of women, newborns; Invest in primary health care, including the strengthening of health systems.
Guarantee clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
Empower adolescent girls, mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.
* For the child mortality estimates:

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