30th December 2020
The Director General
Environmental Management Agency
685/686 Cnr Lorraine Drive/ Faber Road
RE: OPEN LETTER TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT AGENCY ON ENVIRONMENTAL CHILD RIGHTS: A CALL TO ACTION, IT’S NOW OR NEVER
We refer to the above matter.
In the previous decades various actions have been undertaken aimed at improving children’s environmental health so that they can access unspoiled natural resources, clean water, and clean air. Despite all the efforts made, children’s future remains at stake as their rights continue to be violated. They are being exposed to hazardous chemicals, different forms of pollution namely land, water and air quality being compromised amongst many other environmental hazards. This letter seeks to bring your attention on how children’s environmental rights are being violated and to propose recommendations aimed at ensuring a healthy and conducive environment for children.
Section 73 of the constitution of Zimbabwe, guarantees children the right a to an environment not harmful to their health, and to have the environment protected for the present and future generations. A right is a legal privilege to do something, recognized and protected by the law. By children we are referring to girls and boys, differently abled (disabled) who are 18 years and below. Children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards than adults due to their size, and behavior. According to medical experts’ children under the age of five breathe more, drink more water and eat more food per unit of body weight than adults, thus they may experience higher rates of pathogens and pollutants. This exposure to an unhealthy environment has negative impacts on their health for instance the exposure to chemicals like lead increases their chances of having brain damage, pesticides cause skin and eye irritations and in the long run cancer, air pollution causes respiratory issues, unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation causes diarrheal infections. This enhanced violation of their environmental rights can have irreversible, lifelong and even trans-generational consequences.
Stacia Touscher once said “We worry more about what our children will be tomorrow forgetting that they are children now. “It is therefore our duty to address their issues now because it is the only chance, they have to be children and a healthy environment is important for their development. To protect children from the current and life standing risk there is need to further invest in programs that increase access to clean water and sanitation, improved hygiene at personal, household and community level. Education, regulation and use of cleaner fuels and minimizing use of pesticides can also reduce children’s exposure to pollutants.
We therefore recommend that environmental management standards set should consider a child rights based approach that is taking into account issues that are child sensitive and acknowledge difference between children and adults, inclusion of children in policy formulation and decision making so that they become better custodians of the environment as agents of change rather than passive recipients ,environmental education should be strengthened from the lowest grades while ensuring participation of children in tree planting, clean up campaigns among others as present day beneficiaries , tomorrow’s parents and future leaders. The inclusion of well-versed environmentalists in parliament decision making can help determine the type of development, how best it can be conducted and the extent to which it should be done, improved public and medical health interventions to ensure safety of our children. Mining companies should be encouraged to conduct environmental rehabilitation and practice land reclamation to restore aesthetic beauty of the land.
In a nutshell, a healthy environment is a precondition for children’s physical and mental health. It is of paramount importance to remember that we cannot postpone childhood. We live once so it is now or never.
We pray that the Environmental Management Agency will be pleased to take this case into favorable consideration. As a show of good faith, we implore the Agency to sign our petition calling on the respect of the right to a healthy environment internationally available at http://www.my-planet-my-rights.org.
Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association – Youth Network