12 November 2021
Zimbabwe is a State Party to key international human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which protect the rights of children to a healthy and sustainable environment. The country’s Constitution, Section 73 also protects the right of every person to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting economic and social development.
The latest sad news on the drowning of young schoolboys while swimming in an open pit in Zimbabwe’s second largest city and the injury of an eight-year-old girl who fell in an old coal dumpsite in Hwange makes very sad reading. One is then left wondering on where we have failed as a nation considering that we have the best laws and regulations that call for the protection of every person’s right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing.
It is sad to note that some business activities have resulted in land degradation thus causing irreversible harm including loss of life. In 2012, UNICEF together with the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, developed a set of Principles to guide businesses in respecting and protecting the rights of children in their spheres of influence known as the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (The Principles). These Principles represent the internationally agreed upon standards for businesses with regard to children’s rights. These also provide some important recommendations for all businesses. Principle 8 notes that, Businesses should undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility. Sadly, the two incidents reflect how actions by some businesses have resulted in concomitant environmental problems associated with irresponsible investment.
It is important for the investors to avert such by securing their premises and adhering to the laws of the land. The Environmental Management Agency guided by the Environmental Management Act [Chapter 20:27] must prevent anticipated negative impact on the environment and on people’s environmental rights and ensure minimising and remedying such negative impacts. It should also be underlined that any person who causes pollution or environmental degradation must be held liable.
To protect and promote children’s rights to a healthy environment and life, the Agency needs to enhance the implementation and enforcement of the law to address the children and youths’ rights violations through collaboration and co-ordination with other institutions, be they state or non-state institutions. This also includes raising awareness among children, parents, and other persons responsible for the child which have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child, while ensuring the best interests of the child is of primary concern.
In addition, the State should ensure the enforcement of the legal and policy framework by enhancing collaboration and co-ordination among institutions, be they state or non-state institutions. Zimbabwe needs to condemn ill environmental practices and save the present and future generations so that they do not suffer the same ill fate.
Since 2019, ZELA has been working on an environmental child rights (ECR) programme, see below some of the links to our work with clear actions on what needs to be done to promote the right to a healthy environment for children so that we do not continuously read about the sad, preventable and avoidable loss of our children’s lives.