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School student climate strikes are sweeping the world
by Unicef, OHCHR, news agencies
10:55am 14th Jan, 2019
15 Mar. 2019 (AFP, agencies)
Hundreds of thousands of young people skipped school across the globe on Friday to march through the streets for an international day of student protests aimed at pushing world leaders into action on climate change.
Classrooms in capitals from Bangkok to Berlin and Lagos to London emptied as organizers of the student strike called demonstrations in more than 100 countries.
Students flooded into the streets across Europe, North and South America, and Asia carrying placards reading: "There is no planet B", "You're destroying our future" and "If you don't act like adults, we will."
Despite three decades of warnings, carbon dioxide emissions hit record levels in 2017 and again last year.
Loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases at current rates will eventually lead to an uninhabitable planet, scientists say.
In Stockholm, Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg - who inspired the protests - warned that time was running out.
"We are living through an existential crisis that has been ignored for decades and if we do not act now it may be too late," the 16-year-old, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, told Swedish public television station SVT.
Across the world, their placards formed a mosaic:
"Our future in your hands" (Berlin) "System Change not Climate Change" (Vienna) "Don't be a Trump" (Hong Kong) And everywhere, "There is no planet B."
Montreal drew the largest crowds, estimated by organizers at nearly 150,000. In the United States, protests were held in New York, Washington, Chicago, Portland, Oregon, and Minnesota.
Further south in Latin America, placards with messages such as "climate change is not 'fake news' were seen in Buenos Aires, Argentina - while young people also took to the streets in the Chilean capital Santiago and Colombia's Medellin.
In Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities, hundreds of students took part in a colorful protest, waving ribbons, juggling and performing stunts with hoops.
"We have to make a choice whether we want to sit and be indifferent or do something for our planet," said 16-year-old student Srijani Datta.
In Sydney, 18-year-old Charles Rickwood warned that Australia's Great Barrier Reef could be destroyed.
"If current trends in the environment continue, we'll see the one, two degrees increase in our ocean then it will simply become unsustainable and we could lose the entire Great Barrier Reef," he told AFP.
European students were also out en masse. Several thousand youngsters thronged the streets of central London. Packing into Parliament Square, they cheered and chanted "Change... now!" before marching past Downing Street and massing outside Buckingham Palace.
"They''re not going to stop me trying to save the planet," said 15-year-old Joe Crabtree from southwest London, who had missed two exams to join the rally.
More than one million marched overall, according to estimates by organizing groups. The Friday for Future movement said more than 300,000 young people demonstrated in Germany alone.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hailed the student action, saying: "We hear you and in New Zealand we're getting on with setting a path for carbon neutrality."
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres offered his strongest support yet for the strikes, writing in The Guardian newspaper: "Without ambitious action, the Paris agreement is meaningless."
Guterres called for world leaders to come to the Climate Action Summit in New York in September "with concrete, realistic plans" to further reduce their emissions by 2020, in order to reach a target of 45 percent lower emissions over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.
The Paris treaty calls for capping global warming at "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) but the planet is currently on track to heat up by double that figure.
The UN's climate science panel warned in October that only a wholesale transformation of the global economy and consumer habits could forestall a catastrophe.
"My eyes hurt from pollution. My shirt gets dirty from dust," 13-year-old protester Shagun Kumari told AFP in Delhi. "I want fresh air that won't harm my lungs and clean water to drink so that I don't keep falling sick."
15 Feb. 2019
Tens of thousands of students from some 60 communities across the United Kingdom skipped class on Friday to join the global youth-led #schoolstrike4climate, calling on their parliament to take bolder steps to combat the climate change.
Speaking to news reporters in London's Parliament Square on Friday, 12-year-old Theo said he is striking "because there are people in that building over there, completely denying the fact that our world is dying out.. "I've come here to demand that the government address climate change as the crisis and the emergency that it is."
Pointing to rising temperatures and visible changes in the global climate, Theo's 11-year-old friend said he joined the strike because "it's sort of scary to think about that when I'm older there might not be a North Pole or maybe no rainforest or anything'.
"While we're failing to deliver the changes young people need, we can hardly blame them for taking action themselves. Education has today been flipped on its head. The young are teaching the old, and we should pay attention," Greenpeace U.K. executive director John Sauven said in a statement to the Guardian.
"Young people know that their lives are going to be changed dramatically by the impacts of climate change. The risks that older people hope they might dodge are the problems the young will inherit," Sauven added. "And the longer the young wait for action to be taken, the harder it will be for them in future."
Another striking student Holly Gillibrand said: 'I am striking not just for the climate but for nature, for wildlife & for the people on this planet. Change is coming. The young people of this world are standing up for our future'.
Feb. 2019
Climate crisis and a betrayed generation, by the global coordination group of the youth-led climate strike
We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis. Its devastating impacts are already felt by millions of people around the globe. Yet we are far from reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.
Young people make up more than half of the global population. Our generation grew up with the climate crisis and we will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Despite that fact, most of us are not included in the local and global decision-making process. We are the voiceless future of humanity.
We will no longer accept this injustice. We demand justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis, and so we are rising up. Thousands of us have taken to the streets in the past weeks all around the world. Now we will make our voices heard. On 15 March, we will protest on every continent.
We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history and we will not accept the world's decision-makers inaction that threatens our entire civilisation. We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes. Climate change is already happening. People did die, are dying and will die because of it, but we can and will stop this madness.
We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not. United we will rise until we see climate justice. We demand the world's decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis.
You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.
31 Jan. 2019
Tens of thousands of students skipped school in Belgium on Thursday to join demonstrations for action against climate change, the fourth consecutive Thursday of such action. Protests have sprung almost spontaneously from social media in France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere..
17 January 2019
Thousands of school students participate in Youth-for-Climate march in Brussels (The Brussels Times)
Some 12,500 demonstrators participated in a march organised in Brussels by students who stayed away from school on Thursday to press for a more ambitious policy on climate change.
Thursday's march dwarfed a first demonstration organised on Thursday last by the group, Youth for Climate, that attracted about 3,000 young Dutch-speaking participants. This time around, young French-speaking Belgians also joined the protest.
It's great to see the number of people present here today, said march organiser Anuna De Wever. It's an incredible signal. This cannot be ignored.
The youthful demonstrators held placards bearing messages such as The planet needs you to give a damn, I'm sure the dinosaurs thought they had time too, and Geen geld als het smelt (No money if it melts).
Brimming with enthusiasm, they chanted "What do we want? Climate justice" as they filed towards their final destination, the Carrefour de l'Europe.
* IPCC Summary (34pp):
Jan. 2019 (
School student climate strikes that have swept across the world are in full swing in Germany. The movement, also known as #FridaysForFuture, was inspired by the Swedish student Greta Thunberg and has been spreading rapidly across the world.
Just this past Friday, young people from Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Finland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Colombia, the Faroe Islands, and many other places, came together to strike for stronger action on climate change. The students are fighting for a world without climate chaos. 'We are not going to stand by and watch as the climate and our future are destroyed before our eyes!'
On Friday 18 January 2019, thousands of students plan to protest in more than 40 locations around Germany for climate action that is both ambitious and fair to future generations.
Dec. 2018
Climate change inaction: Our political leaders have failed us, says Greta Thunberg.
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 Antonio 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. '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, Antonio 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.
30 Nov. 2018
Australian school students on mass strike to protest climate change inaction.
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, hundreds of school students rallied at South Australia's Parliament House. Organiser Deanna Athanosos, who is in year 10, said Prime Minister Scott 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".
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 reporters. "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."
Record heatwaves, floods, droughts a stark vision of the world for future generations, by Ted Chaiban. (Unicef)
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 Nina 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:
Almost one in seven children breathing heavily toxic air, UNICEF report
Some 300 million children in the world are living in areas with outdoor air so toxic - six or more times higher than international pollution guidelines - that it can cause serious health damage, including harming their developing brains, a new United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report has revealed.
Pollutants don't only harm children's developing lungs they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains and, thus, their futures, said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a news release announcing the agency's new report 'Clear the air for children.'
Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year nd it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day, he added. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.
UNICEF is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to cut air pollution in their countries.
Using satellite imagery, the report further shows that around two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds minimum air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following with 520 million children, and the East Asia and Pacific region with 450 million children living in areas that exceed guideline limits.
UNICEF further stressed that children are more susceptible than adults to both indoor and outdoor air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracks are more permeable.
It added that young children also breathe faster than adults, and take in more air relative to their body weight.
In particular, the most disadvantaged, who already tend to have poorer health and inadequate access to health services, are the most vulnerable to the illnesses caused by polluted air.
The UNICEF report also examines the impact of indoor pollution, commonly caused by the use of fuels like coal and wood for cooking and heating, which mostly affects children in low-income, rural areas.
Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children's health, noted the news release.
UNICEF further added that it is asking world leaders to take four urgent steps in their countries to protect children from air pollution, these include: reducing pollution to meet WHO global air quality guidelines; increasing children's access to healthcare; minimizing children's exposure to sources of pollution such as by locating sources of pollution such as factories away from schools and playgrounds as well as by use of cleaner cookstoves; and monitoring air pollution.
Underscoring that children are protected when the quality of the air that everyone breathes is protected, UNICEF's Executive Director Lake added: Both are central to our future.
* Access the Unicef report:
Submission to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on climate change and the enjoyment of child rights. Submitted by the Child Rights International Network - December 2016.
(The relationship between climate change and the rights of the child, human rights obligations to mitigate and adapt to climate change and examples of how the realisation of the rights of the child can contribute to more effective climate action).
Nearly all of the rights of children are impacted in some way by climate change. Some of the core international treaties explicitly frame their provisions in terms of environmental rights, while other treaties include rights that apply in the context of climate change.
Increased malnutrition, the destruction of habitats and the exposure of children to diseases related to change in climate all clearly engage the right to health, to an adequate standard of living as well as the right to life, survival and development.
Climate change may also cause internal displacement or create refugees, triggering States well established obligations with respect to these issues.
These situations may give rise to new applications of rights, but they are addressed by the extensive obligations States have committed themselves to under existing treaties.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has been alert to the application of established rights in the context of climate change, specifically identifying it as one of the biggest threats to children's health, requiring States to put children's health concerns at the centre of their climate change adaption and mitigation strategies.
In relation to children's rights and private businesses, the Committee has also recognised that environmental degradation and contamination arising from business activities can compromise children's rights to health, food security and access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Despite the rights enjoyed by children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties, the focus on States and international bodies has largely been on mitigating damage being done by climate change rather than States meeting rights obligations engaged by climate change.
As OHCHR has noted, access to justice is a fundamental right in itself and an essential prerequisite for the protection and promotion of all other human rights. This principle applies to children's rights in the context of climate change as it does in all other situations. These rights, whether civil, political, social, economic or cultural are justiciable and should be legally enforceable, not subject solely to voluntary commitments.
Examples of the way that the realisation of children's rights has contributed to effective climate action will be addressed in context in responses to the following questions.
Existing commitments, legislation and other measures adopted by States and other duty-bearers, such as businesses, in climate change mitigation and adaption which are designed to protect the best interests of the child.
The best interests of the child is one of the general principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, necessary for the effective implementation of all of the rights of the Convention. The cross-cutting nature of the best interests of the child within the Convention is particularly important in the context of climate change, which engages most provisions of the Convention.
Obligations to realise children's rights under international human rights treaties in the context of climate change most directly fall on States. The direct incorporation of treaties in their entirety or of specific provisions into national law to make them enforceable is a basic and essential means of ensuring that States meet their obligations with regards to climate change.
There are a range of ways to achieve incorporation, but constitutionally protected rights are among the strongest and most concrete ways of doing so. The strongest provisions clearly set out the right in question and ensure that it is justiciable.
The Constitution of Bolivia, for example, enshrines 'the right to a healthy, protected and balanced environment' and explicitly provides that this right is granted to individuals and collectives of present and future generations and that the right may be enforced through legal action.
The Nepalese Constitution explicitly creates an entitlement of victims of environmental pollution to be compensated by the person responsible for the pollution.
Though far from universal, a number of countries have adopted similar provisions, demonstrating that there is no insurmountable obstacle to States protecting environmental rights within national human rights law.
The duty to realise children's rights is not, however, limited to States, but extends too to private individuals and business.
Great emphasis is placed internationally on the the UN Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework for Business and Human Rights, with regards to holding private institutions responsible for human rights, but the principles do not create new international law obligations or undermine any existing legal obligation under international law.
As recognised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the duties and responsibilities to respect the rights of children extend in practice beyond the State and State-controlled services and institutions and apply to private actors and business enterprises.
This obligation requires that business meet their responsibilities involving children's rights and that States ensure that they do so. States should not directly or indirectly facilitate, aid and abet any infringement of children's rights, and to this end, they have an obligation to ensure that all actors, including businesses, respect children's rights.
Where a State has failed to undertake the necessary, appropriate and reasonable measures to prevent businesses from causing or contributing to abuses of children's rights or to provide remedies for these abuses it has breached its own obligations. States are not exempted from their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child when they outsource or privatise services that impact on the fulfilment of children's rights.
Guidance on what further actions need to be taken to adequately integrate children's rights within climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, practices and decisions.
Establishing access to justice for children in the context of climate change is a key means of ensuring that States and private actors are held accountable for obligations in this setting. Where rights and their corresponding obligations are enforceable and remedies available, children are given the power to challenge failures and push for increasing standards. As noted above, access to justice is a corollary to all rights, but certain limits on access to justice particularly apply with regards to climate change and need to be addressed to adequately integrate children's rights within climate change policies and practices.
Climate change is a global problem: its effects and violations of relevant rights cross borders. To this end, extraterritorial jurisdiction is an essential tool to hold multinational corporations responsible for environmental damage they have caused. A company may cause environmental damage in one country, but the responsible person or the corporation's assets may be in another jurisdiction. There are well established mechanisms and legal practices and models that could be used to address this problem.
The Alien Torts Statute: Climate change, by its nature also impacts large numbers of people and some of its effects are experienced by the whole population of a country. This fact creates a potential barrier where national rules on legal standing - the rules on who is able to bring a complaint in law - require individuals to be specifically affected by a harm. States should avoid restrictive rules of standing that prevent cases being brought to challenge widespread harm in the context of climate change.
The concept of intergenerational justice is also key to the protection of children's rights engaged by climate change. In essence, the principle states that there should be distributive justice between generations and that the rights of different generations should be equal over time.
The establishment of the principle at the national level would provide a legal basis to challenge short termist laws and policies that do not take account of the rights of future generations..
UN rights expert urges States and businesses to prevent childhood exposure to toxics and pollution. (OHCHR)
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, is urging governments and businesses across the world to take greater actions to prevent the widespread childhood exposure to toxics and pollution which has triggered a silent pandemic of childhood disease and disability.
Children everywhere are being born pre-polluted, Mr. Tuncak warned ahead of a day-long panel debate of international experts on children's rights and the environment, organised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child at Palais des Nations, UN headquarters in Geneva, Friday 24 September.
States have an obligation to prevent children from being exposed to toxics and pollution, and businesses a corresponding responsibility, said the expert who will present at the event his 2016 report to the UN Human Rights Council on the impact of hazardous chemicals and the rights of the child.
Case after case has illustrated the myriad of rights violated when States and businesses fail to prevent the exposure of children to toxics and pollution.
Children are arguably the most vulnerable to toxics and pollution. For years, they are completely defenseless. They are impacted in ways in which adults are not. They are exposed at higher levels than adults, including to toxic chemicals found in their mother's body, he said noting that his report responds to numerous cases of children poisoned by toxic chemicals and pollution in recent years.
In Flint, Michigan, up to 12,000 children, mostly African-American, were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water. In South Korea, an untested, under-regulated consumer product killed over 90 victims, including several babies and pregnant women. Around the world, highly hazardous pesticides continue to kill and injure children who engage in one of the worst forms of child labour or are accidentally poisoned through contaminated food.
A child's best interests must guide the interpretation and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The child's best interests are best served through the prevention of exposure, Special Rapporteur stressed.
September 2016 (Extract from the report)
Children everywhere are suffering from the impacts of toxics and pollution. These impacts materialize in different forms, at various stages of life, and from a myriad of routes of exposure.
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 World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1,700,000 children under the age of 5 died in 2012 from modifiable environmental factors, such as air pollution (over 500,000 deaths) and water contamination.
This figure accounts for 26 per cent of the deaths of children under 5 years of age. However, the 1,700,000 deaths are only the tip of the iceberg.
There is a silent pandemic of disability and disease associated with exposure to toxics and pollution during childhood, many of which do not manifest themselves for years or decades. Child victims may die prematurely after the age of 5 or be debilitated throughout their lives.
Toxic chemicals that interfere with the normal expression of genes, brain development, the function of hormones and other processes necessary for children to grow into healthy adults pervade our economies and persist in our environment.
Children are born pre-polluted with numerous contaminants that impact on their rights to survival and development, to be heard, to physical integrity and to the highest attainable standard of health, to name but a few.
Representative studies have measured at least dozens, if not hundreds, of toxic and otherwise hazardous chemicals in children before birth through their mother's exposure.
Exposure to toxics and pollution (toxics) continues incessantly after birth. While the studies primarily come from certain countries, every child is a victim of this toxic trespass, in varying degrees.
Children in low-income, minority, indigenous and marginalized communities are at more risk, as exposure levels in such communities are often higher and are exacerbated by malnutrition, with the adverse effects inadequately monitored. Hence, questions arise of environmental racism and environmental injustice that undermine human dignity, equality and non-discrimination.
The situation regarding childhood exposure in developing countries is already known to be grave, however the actual magnitude of impacts is still insufficiently measured.
This assault on children's rights is largely invisible. Toxics contaminate air, water, food, playgrounds, houses, schools and other sources of exposure, contrary to the child's right to adequate housing and safe food, water and play, producing deadly or lifelong impacts on mental and physical health.
Missing information about who manufactures, sells, uses, trades in, releases or disposes of hazardous substances is compounded by information deficits on the health risks and impacts of exposure, enabling perpetrators to evade accountability.
Many factors contribute to children being exposed around the world. Policies that prioritize businesses instead of children's best interests, gaps in legislation, outrageous failures to enforce existing laws, the lack of capacity for monitoring and oversight, corporate misinformation campaigns, fragmented governance and disengaged health and labour ministries are but a few of the problems that leave children in both the wealthiest and the poorest countries bearing the brunt of an assault from toxic chemicals and pollution.
Cancer now figures among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases of cancer and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths in 2012. The incidence of childhood cancer has risen during periods of rapid increase in the use of industrial chemicals; this increased incidence cannot be explained by genetics or lifestyle choices alone.
The incidence of testicular, breast and other cancers that may be triggered by childhood exposure to toxics has also increased in recent decades. Six hundred thousand children develop irreversible intellectual disabilities every year, from lead alone.
Beyond lead, an untold number of neurotoxicants are believed to be eroding intelligence, and contributing to developmental abnormalities and behavioural disorders. Type 2 diabetes, which was previously seen only in adults, is predicted to be the seventh leading cause of death of children by 2030.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases among children, with rates rising by 50 per cent every decade on average. These are some of the health impacts linked with exposure to toxic chemicals and pollution.
Some States have recognized these grave risks and are prioritizing the issue of childhood exposure to toxics. However, the issue is often reduced to a question of cost versus benefit, with human rights considerations divorced from and inconsequential to the equation. Prevention measures taken by States are increasingly outpaced by scientific evidence of grave impacts, the rapid acceleration in toxic chemical production and use and inadequate chemical and waste treaties to protect children.
There is clear evidence that more precaution is warranted globally in protecting children from exposure. Despite tests being available to identify chemicals that may affect the health of children, tens of thousands of industrial chemicals have not been tested for such impacts.
Furthermore, regulators assess the likelihood of harm from toxics on the basis of the exposure of an average adult to a single substance, not on the basis of real-life conditions, as children are exposed to multiple substances (that may result in combination effects) during sensitive periods of childhood development.
Businesses implicated insist that exposure levels are too low to produce adverse impacts, without providing evidence of safety for children who may be exposed to multiple toxics during their development. Most children whose lives are irreversibly or fatally altered by toxics and pollution have no access to an effective remedy.
The burden is placed on children to prove that a toxic chemical was the cause of their injuries, not on the businesses that profit from these activities to prove that they do no harm. The evidentiary burden is noted to be very effective against the victims.
Even unquestionably toxic sites of contamination, whether from the dirty legacy of businesses or the toxic remnants of war, escape remediation and accountability that could prevent future human rights violations.
The economic costs borne by governments and the public, externalized by businesses to a large degree, are estimated to range from hundreds of billions to trillions of United States dollars for selected toxics.
The use of lead in paint is estimated to cost low-and middle-income countries $1 trillion in health-care expenses, lost productivity and other economic costs. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in food and cosmetics and from other sources are estimated to burden the European Union with over $100 billion in economic costs per year, and there is inadequate information to estimate the costs externalized on developing countries. Hazardous pesticides are estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa more than the official development assistance it receives per year.
The problem is increasingly criminal in nature. The illegal disposal of waste across borders is an ongoing problem. The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) notes that between 60 and 90 per cent of electronic waste is disposed of illegally. The illegal use of banned pesticides and toxic chemicals, as well as of counterfeit products, continues to be a major problem globally, a serious threat to children of the workers affected, to communities and to consumers. Recent estimates show that the global market for illegal pesticides may have doubled between 2007 and 2011.
And yet, human rights defenders seeking to protect children from further exposure to toxics are harassed, imprisoned or even killed.
Tens of millions of children are engaged in hazardous work, where they are often exposed to toxic chemicals. For example, children around the world continue to work in artisanal and small-scale mines, where they are exposed to mercury and other toxic chemicals.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has estimated that 40,000 children toil in mines, extracting a known carcinogen (cobalt) to be used in cell phones, laptop computers and cars by companies that undoubtedly have resources for human rights due diligence.
Children working in agriculture continue to use hazardous pesticides despite the bans on such products in several countries, raising questions of double standards and discrimination.
Toxic remnants of war inflict pain and suffering on communities long after the conflicts have concluded. In Iraq, independent studies suggest that birth defects have increased dramatically among children in conflict areas, who in many cases do not have access to medical care and treatment. Unexploded munitions, landmines, chemical weapons, pesticides, and other hazardous remnants of war and conflict persist worldwide.

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