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“Respect, Promote and Consider Environmental Child Rights”- Community Call to Action

17 June 2021

Compiled by Sandra Musonzah

Introduction and Background

There is No Time Left: Protecting Environmental Child Rights is key. Environmental child rights (ECR) are rights that protect children and young people to ensure a safe and clean environment. To detail, the rights to a clean sustainable environment encompass protection rights, participation rights and development rights for children and young people. ECR prioritizes children and young people as important stakeholders and the most affected by negative environmental degradation in communities. Overtime children specific rights and needs have been neglected by  community level to international agreements. National legal laws and policies have been enacted but they have not specifically addressed environmental child rights. Human rights approach to environmental problems affecting children have stayed unnoticed in crucial engagement stages.

Children rights have been overlooked for a longtime in mining communities though there are the most vulnerable groups being affected by the negative environmental impacts. Research shows that child rights violation to a health environment are mostly influenced by extractive industries (mining) operations  such as poor waste management, environmental degradation some of the contributory factors in exacerbating the effects of climate change . Consequently, it has contributed to violations of the rights to life, development, health, food, water and clean environmental. There is need to ensure the environment is protected and conserved for the present and future generation.

Sharing key experience of environmental child rights

To advance towards children’s rights to a healthy and sustainable environment there should be meaningful participation and engagement with young people at  local, national, and regional level. In its resolution, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association and Terre Des Hommes partnered to the global call that seeks to ensure promotion and  protection of the rights to clean health environment are achieved thus, through the use of legislation to close the existing gaps hindering ECR implementation. To have greater appreciation and recognition of environmental child rights, ZELA at the grassroots initiated youth-stakeholder capacity building activities to understand the link between human rights and children ‘s right to a health environment

To share key lessons, children in Chiadzwa-Marange diamond community revealed that their health has been severely affected by exposure to hazardous chemicals from large to illegal scale mining operations. The responsible authorities have failed to effectively use the law to protect children from waterand air pollution jeopardizing their right to a clean environment. Young people are often vulnerable because they are still developing. At a dialogue held with ZELAon ECR at St Andrew, children and young people in Chiadzwa-Marange pointed out that they have been leveraging on youth environmental clubs to amplify their voices towards recognition of environmental child rights. The environmental clubs are giving young people platforms to have shared a understanding on how to tackle environmental  rights violations through conducting researches, monitoring and stakeholder engagement opportunities.

To buttress on local initiatives, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Mr. Chauruka acknowledged the efforts by young people and took the opportunity to strengthen their environmental initiatives to be sustainable (sustainability of clubs). Community youth activists are continuously taking steps in collaborating with key stakeholders. According to Mr Chauruka, EMA’s main focus is to work with young children and environment defenders to protect the environment and its inhabitants for environmental sustainability for the benefit of future generation.

Children and theYouth are agents of change, bear the duty to demand change in the face of injustice and have a mandate to continuously advocate for child related rights. Young people in mining communities have a say in addressing environmental challenges. To that, the MyPlanetMyRights campaign in Chiadzwa-Marange has gained momentum in community environmental clubs, children in and out of school and most importantly local leadership are rallying behind young people engagement at all levels. The international campaign, at community level is encouraging people to safeguard and protect the environment through recycling projects that can be owned by youth -children and capacitation on how environmental petition procedures are implemented at local and international level. The campaign is giving youths a platform to share experiences and participate in protecting environmental child rights initiatives.

To support the campaign, traditional leaders and environmental monitors in Chiadzwa-Marange have joined the call to enhance child rights through enhancing their participation in developing and being involved in  EIA processes and in decision making to ensure that  issues that affect them are put on the spotlight. Involvement of local leadership in ECR programs gies  leaders an obligation that children must have access to justice including effective remedies and reparation of human rights violations. To ensure that the environment is protected and the welfare of young children are considered, traditional leaders took the idea to effectively disseminate environmental information to youth and children. As duty bearers, constitutionally it is their obligation under Section 282 sets out the functions of traditional leaders, within their area of jurisdiction (a) to promote and uphold the cultural values of communities whilst promoting sound family values. Community leaders are embracing ECR in their approaches in Chiadzwa-Marange, through engagement with child-youth environmental clubs, community-based organizations and environmental monitors to implement key rights at grassroots level and with all stakeholders involved.

In conclusion, recognizing children’s rights to a healthy environment improves the health of children, entire population and ecosystem. The concept of raising awareness on the impacts of environmental harm especially in mining communities is a key goal on the well-being of children. The child rights-based approach to environmental management and protection begins with valuing children rights from a community perspective (bottom-up approach). Policy makers and duty bearers in Zimbabwe must adopt a child rights integrated approach to all decision matters. This includes ensuring the participation of children and young people as well as proactively taking into consideration the needs of children and young people in decision making processes. Inheriting a sustainable environment depends on today’s decision.

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