The impact of environmental problems, such as climate change, pollution, environmental degradation and resource depletion will profoundly affect the quality of life of current and future generations of children.
Children’s bodies are particularly susceptible to adverse effects of environmental harm because exposure occurs during sensitive periods of development. In addition, their young age means they will have to live with any consequences for longer.
The obligations to realise children’s rights in the context of environmental problems most directly falls on States. However, businesses also have obligations. Read more on business and children’s rights, including this guide.
Ensuring children’s access to justice in this area is crucial to ensure redress for violations of children’s rights already incurred, but also for preventing their recurrence by ensuring future laws and policies are rights-respecting.
Court decisions in this area are increasingly asserting the concept of intergenerational justice - the idea that all generations’ interests should be accorded equal importance. Collective litigation and public interest litigation are also an effective way of challenging the widespread or large scale violations that result from environmental damage - while reducing the burden on any given child victim, though few States allow such action.
Read more about these issues in CRIN’s submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Day of General Discussion on children’s rights and the environment.
Toxic chemicals leave devastating impacts on people around the world, with children often the worst affected due to their unique vulnerabilities. Today, children are born around the world “pre-polluted”, as exposure to toxics before birth can severely affect children’s health.
Tens of thousands of industrial chemicals have been presumed safe, with little to no evidence. Less than 0.03 percent are regulated globally, yet research increasingly links childhood exposure to certain toxic chemicals to a range of diseases that manifest later in life, such as cancer, diabetes, impaired brain function and others.
Childhood exposure implicates numerous rights violations, including the right to life, survival and development, the right to health, and the right to an adequate standard of living and a healthy environment.
In addition, children often have no opportunity to participate in decisions about which hazardous substances enter their bodies. Yet the burden of proof in accessing justice falls on the victim.
Nearly all of the rights of children are impacted in some way by climate change. The focus on States and international bodies has largely been on mitigating damage caused by climate change rather than States meeting rights obligations relating to climate change.
Read more in CRIN’s submission to the OHCHR’s report on climate change and the enjoyment of child rights.
Also read our special edition CRINmail on the Paris Climate Summit.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Here is a brief run-down of how these issues relate to the SDGs.
Goal 1: No poverty. In all countries, children in low-income communities are typically the most exposed to toxics and the most at-risk, e.g. malnutrition can exacerbate the adverse effects of toxic chemicals on developing children.
Goal 2: Zero hunger. Food and agriculture is a major source of toxic chemical exposures. Highly hazardous pesticides remain in use in dangerous conditions, and foods contain many hazardous substances, from pesticides, to packaging.
Goal 3: Good health and well-being. According to the WHO, upwards of 7 million people die prematurely from air pollution. Healthcare and loss of productivity are estimated to cost societies hundreds of billions per year, and exposure to toxics can be linked to an increase in childhood cancer.
Goal 6: Water and sanitation. Water is a major source of exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants, in poor and wealthy countries: securing the right of children to safe drinking water is a challenge.
Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy. Clean energy is necessary to mitigate the adverse impacts of dirty energy sources. Many hazardous substances in the environment are due to dirty energy which all present a variety of health risks to children around the world.
Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth. On average, one worker dies every minute due to exposure to hazardous substances, this includes pregnant women and children.
Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure. Studies by the Center for International and Environmental Law (CIEL) have shown that increased public awareness and the prospect for stronger laws to regulate hazardous substances can spark companies to innovate, creating safer alternatives.
Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities. Air pollution causes respiratory illnesses in millions of people in cities across the world - from Delhi, to Beijing to London.
Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production. In 2002, the global community announced the “2020 goal” - to achieve the sound management of chemicals throughout their lifecycle; with little progress to date.
Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions. Existing treaties on chemicals and wastes only cover 26 out of 1,500 hazardous substances throughout their lifecycle. There is an urgent need for a global framework to regulate these chemicals, from production to disposal.