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UN Child Rights Body Moves to Protect Kids from Environmental Harm

Decision to Provide Authoritative Guidance to Governments is Long Overdue

A girl surrounded by land devastated by Cyclone Amphan in Satkhira, Bangladesh on March 20th, 2021. © 2021 Kazi Salahuddin Razu/NurPhoto via AP

Children are facing the harmful consequences of poor environmental policies on a daily basis. A shocking 1.7 million children under age five lose their lives every year as a result of avoidable environmental degradation. Millions more experience disease, disability, and other harm due to degrading ecosystems, toxic pollution, and climate change. Human Rights Watch has documented the harms to children in many settings, including the climate crisis in Canada, forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon, and toxic pollution around the world.

It is therefore good news that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child just decided to draw up authoritative guidance on countries’ obligations on child rights and the environment, with a special focus on the climate crisis. The guidance will spell out states’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. The Committee says it will consult governments, experts, children, young adults, and other interested parties for the guidance, called a General Comment.

Human Rights Watch and many others have long called for such guidance. It is not only a stark reminder of the urgency of the climate crisis, but also an important opportunity for child and youth activists around the world, as well as civil society groups, to have their voices heard.

The Committee’s guidance should reflect the views of children who are directly affected by environmental harm. It should guide governments on how to place child rights at the heart of environmental policies, helping policymakers overcome their tendency to treat child rights and the environment as separate areas. And it should contain detailed guidance for ambitious climate action that seek to protect the human rights of young people and future generations. There is no time to lose.   

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