By Sandra Musonzah and Blessed Marecha (ZELA Youth Network)
Environmental Child Rights is a pressing human right matter likely to impact the young presently and in the future. There are several challenges facing young people particularly their vulnerability to negative effects of environmental violation irrespective of strides being made to mitigate devastating consequences. Some communities affected by environmental issues are inadequately informed about their rights and the possibilities of advocating for sustainable environment engagements and this is negatively affecting their right to a healthy environment with young people bearing the brunt.
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) calls for urgent protection of environmental child rights in prone areas as a follow up monitoring from the ECR and extractives research conducted since 2019. A case study that assessed Chiadzwa and Zvishavane communities revealed that although the right to a healthy environment is guaranteed in the Constitution, its realization mostly by young people remains a mystery. Section 73 of the Zimbabwean constitution provides for Environmental rights and a right to a safe and healthy environment as essential. However, it was discovered that in these areas the rate of pollution (water, land, and air) is very high though little concern is given to children and young people’s well-being. Their opinions are not considered in accounting for environmental impact assessments and social plans, thus they suffer negatively from long term consequences on livelihoods, the environment and their health.
To consolidate youth voices to promote effective participation and realization of human rights, ZELA is implementing a child-based project being carried out in cooperation with executing agencies in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. It is this motive which gave birth to the Multi-Actor Partnerships (MAPs) project where different stakeholders are being called to put their minds and resources together in the promotion, protection and fulfilment of children and youths’ voices to a healthy environment. This is a timely initiative as investment opportunities set within “Zimbabwe is open for business mantra” activities such as mining are set to increase, thus demanding sustainable mining as well as safeguarding the interests of the child. The project seeks to ensure that sustainable development and environmental protection are at balance. To effectively mitigate prolonged environmental challenges, ZELA Officer Josephine Chiname during the inception of the project denoted that challenges need a collaborative approach in addressing them and stakeholders need to leverage on the MAPs to appreciate stakeholder efforts. It calls for young people as a stand-alone stakeholder to assist in environmental protection, decision making and monitoring. MAPs demand inclusivity participation and youth voices to be realised from community level structures to provincial as well as strengthening existing youth committees to enable effective engagement on natural resource governance and the environment.
To ensure environmental child rights are observed and youth views make it through to the decision making table as stipulated in the Constitution section 56 (1) as read together with section 81(1)(a) which provides for equal protection and benefiting from the law of all the “people” including the children to pave way to a healthy and sustainable environment. There is a need to channel efforts to target right beneficiaries along with relevant stakeholders, youth representatives from the environmental and mining sectors, for inclusive multi stakeholder dialogues. There is a Shona adage that states: “Rume rimwe harikombi churu” which also relates to: “A single hand washes the face but more hands clean the community.”
It is of paramount importance to note that, violation of child rights overtime has been normalised silencing youth perspective to development. To escalate child rights, we need to embrace our Constitution which is the supreme law of Zimbabwe to which every law, custom, practice or conduct must be aligned to it. In addition, the right to a healthy environment is also provided for in section 4 of the Environment Management Act (chapter 20: 27)
There is an inter-relationship between this right to a healthy environment and some other rights such as the right to education and the right to food and water, as provided for in section 75 and 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe respectively. Therefore, this means that an infringement of the child’s right to a healthy environment will negatively affect the other rights.
Children are the guardians of our future environment. Protect their Environmental Rights.
· For full realization of a child’s right to a healthy environment by children and youth at large, MAPs is advocating for inclusive participation of children and youths in making decisions which will not negatively impact this right. It is always a principle of natural justice that every person must be heard before an adverse decision against them is taken. Thus, MAPs call upon all stakeholders to capacitate children and youths either financially or materially so that they can fully participate and share their views before an adverse decision is taken.
· This is also in line with Article 12 of the Convention on the rights of the children which provides that the views of the children must be taken into consideration in making decisions that influence them. More so, this is also in line with section 4(2)(c) of the Environmental Management Act which encourages participation of interested and affected persons in the governance of the environment.
· In addition, to ensure the participation of children and youths the stakeholders can use the existing structures such as junior councils and parliaments to support children and youths to raise their voice. Stakeholders may also ensure the participation of youths through collaborative strategies as such training workshops and environmental manuals to embrace environmental rights.
· To voice change and ensure participation of young people in decision making processes there is a need to guarantee them security and safety. There is no doubt that many youths are afraid of criticizing some of the government’s policies and measures even if they are being negatively affected.