Protection of environment has posed not only a major challenge but also a social and moral responsibility in the present society. In recent times, the subject of environment has interested the general public and caught the attention and enthusiasm of children in particular. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development affirms that children are an indispensable component in achieving sustainable development. In addition, one chapter in Agenda 21 is solely devoted to children and youth in sustainable development and portrays the special role that they can play in this process, while other chapters recognize the conditions of extreme poverty in which children live and the perpetual state of hunger the many suffer as a consequence of environment degradation. Environmental threats to child health can broadly be divided into “traditional” hazards, stemming largely from a lack of development, and “modern” hazards, arising essentially from unsustainable patterns of development. The quality of the environment and the care a child receives from parents and family members exerts a powerful influence on his or her physical and mental development processes.
Obviously enough, there is an increasing evidence in support of the crucial role that children can and must play in environmental protection through their participation and also developing of appropriate mechanisms that protect the children’s rights to a decent environment. The term environment refers to circumstances surrounding children, especially the combinations of external physical conditions, which affect and influence the growth, development and survival of children and the complex of social conditions affecting the nature of children and the community in which they live. The UN Convention on the rights of child (1989) proclaims the following child rights relating to environment to be protected and promoted by the State parties.
Article: 6-Right to life, Article: 12-Right to express views, Article: 13-Freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information, Article: 15-Freedom of association, perhaps in relation to formation of environmental groups, Article: 16- Privacy, Article: 17-Access to information including national and international sources, especially material aimed at promotion of the child’s physical and mental health, Article: 24- Right of the child to the enjoyment of highest attainable standard of health, Article: 27-Right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s development, Article: 28 & 29 -Education, Article: 31-Right of the child to rest and leisure and to engage in play and recreational activities.
From the environmental perspective, the UN Convention on the rights of the child emphasizes four important principles namely 1.All children, irrespective of age, gender, ethnic and social background, disabilities, and irrespective of where they live, have the right to a healthy and supportive physical environment (Article: 2) 2.All actions and decisions concerning the physical environment shall be made and assessed with the best interests of the child and generations to come (Article: 3), 3.All children have the right to adequate environmental conditions for good health and social, intellectual and emotional development(Article.6),which focuses on the fact that a general understanding of environmental preconditions are necessary for realizing children’s rights and knowledge about and respect for the natural environment is an integral part of the development of every child and 4.All children have the right to express their views on all issues that affect them, which implies that children’s views on their dwelling, their school and their near environment shall be respected.(Article:12)
In principle 19 of the Stockholm Declaration of the Human Environment (1973), it was emphasized `Education in environmental matters, for the younger generation as well as adults, giving due consideration to the underprivileged, is essential in order to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals; enterprises and communities in this full human dimension’. Further, it recognized that the world’s youth have vital role to play in environment protection more than twenty years ago and expressed the same in Principle 19. It emphasizes that child, who will inherit the earth, must receive it, and in turn pass it on, in a state no worse than received. To achieve this, Children’s environmental health rights education and training is highlighted as vital in this process.
By sensitizing the young minds to environmental problems-natural and man made, education and communication can assist, in keeping the demands within environmentally sustained limits and thus improve the quality of life for all. Children’s environmental health rights education is a continuous learning process based on respect for all life. It affirms values and actions, which ultimately promote the transformation and construction of society. It fosters ecologically sound and equitable societies that live together in interdependence and diversity. It requires individual and collective responsibility at the local, national and planetary level. It attempts to bring about change in the quality of life and a greater consciousness of personal conduct, as well as harmony among the human being and between them and other forms of life. Most importantly, it greens the young minds in a globalizing world to think and act locally and globally in a fast changing world.
Child health rights and issues in India:
It is reported in India Together,India,Sunday,02,November 2008(www.indiatogether.org) ‘The health of our children in India continues to be a matter of grave concern, especially in the wake of growing privatisation of health services, and their increasing inaccessibility for the poor. This is a particularly serious situation as environmental degradation and pollution lead to a further deterioration in children's health. The working conditions that many children are forced to suffer worsens matters. Children in India suffer from malnutrition or die of starvation and preventable diseases. According to UNAIDS there are 170,000 children infected by HIV/AIDS in India. Children affected by the virus-whether children of victims or those who are infected themselves-- live on the fringes of society, ostracised by people they call their own, unloved and uncared for, even as our government continues to squabble over numbers of affected people. Even juvenile diabetes is reported to be taking on pandemic proportions’.
Children like any other children of the world who live in villages and backward areas in and around Madurai, Tamilnadu, India need a decent, secure, affordable home which is fundamental to the realization of children’s rights. The quality of housing affects girls’ and boys’ health and overall environment. Their health and survival depends as much on healthy environments as on health services. In fact, these children are particularly affected by health related problems which are related to water and sanitation and they are susceptible to diarrhoeal diseases, intestinal worms and various eye and skin ailments. Inadequate living environments namely environmental chaos, stress and parenting, poor housing, absence of safe informal public gathering places, lack of easy access to opportunities for safe play, absence of constructive opportunities for young people, repeated exposure to violence in hazardous in rural and semi- urban environment etc impact the quality of life of children.
It is found that children who live in rural and backward areas have heightened vulnerability to a variety of exposures as a consequence of their developmental, behavioural and physiological characteristics. They receive greater exposures per unit of body weight than adults because – for their size – they eat more food, drink more liquids, and breathe more air than adults. Depending on their age, children's ability to metabolize, detoxify and excrete many toxicants is different from that of adults. Exposures at critical periods of development can result in irreversible damage to the growing nervous system, affect emerging behaviour patterns, cause immune dysfunction and have serious reproductive effects.Children's behaviour often places them at higher risk than adults to certain environmental hazards, because of their exploratory behaviour, frequent hand-to-mouth activity, and proximity to the ground - all of which result in greater contact with sources of contamination.
The Goodwill social work centre has been taking up various programmes aimed the physical, social, educational and spiritual development of children and young people who are in the 7-18 years of age. Our experiences have shown that though these activities and services which are being offered to boys and girls who hail from villages and urban slums areas have impacted the quality of their life to an appreciable extent and the extent of their participation in the programmes is found to be fairly high, the need for promoting the education of these children about the importance of physical environment and sensitizing them to the environmental health rights and their participation in decisions that affect their lives is of paramount importance.
Knowing the importance of information dissemination in promoting the environmental health rights among children and providing opportunity for them to effectively participate in practice - based learning experiences, the Goodwill social work centre proposes to launch a CHILDREN’S ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH RIGHTS’ centre to cater to the needs of children and young people in and around Madurai, Tamilnadu, South India and backward areas in and around Madurai, Tamilnadu, South India. The proposed Centre will provide education and training on children’s rights and environment, research on issues concerning environmental health rights, takes up advocacy, undertakes capacity building, work in partnership with local and international organizations, work with media and press and act a resources centre for children, youth, teachers and parents”. It aims to build harmonious relationship between the environment and children and young people. Our work will Centre on promoting greater access to justice and guarantee human rights for children who are victims of environmental degradation.
The proposed Centre will be set up in line with the following guiding principles:
1.All children have the right to clean air, safe food and drinking water, and consumer and commercial products free of environmental health and safety threats;
2.All children have the right to healthy homes, healthy child care facilities, healthy schools and healthy communities;
3.All children and adults have the right to know about proven and potential hazards to their environmental health and safety.
Our centre will organise all programmes with a view to protecting the above rights and to acting with precaution on decisions that could affect children's health.
Our experiences in promoting environmental health rights among children:
The Goodwill social work centre has had wide previous professional and experience in undertaking rights based environment education and communication projects for rural children and youth in ten villages in the Narikudi village panchayat block, Kamarajar district, Tamilnadu, South India under the aegis of the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada.(1994-1995),which was replicated in Therkutheru Villages, Madurai East Village panchayat union block, Madurai district, Tamilnadu, South India, funded by US based DuPont South Asia Limited, Madurai under Safety Health and Environment (SHE) award(1996-1998). The following strategies included.1. Setting up Children’s Environmental Rights Centre. 2. Designing a curriculum on Environmental Education. 3. Focus on environmental rights education & Training. 4 Training for village male and female Animators. 5. Enrolment of children (Girls and Boys) 6. Pre-assessment survey. 7. Time frame for Environmental rights sessions and media interventions. 8. Program implementation .9 Post evaluations. The environmental health rights program components comprised 1.rigth based education and training 2. Participatory training 3. Field study and exposure visits 4.Media interventions (Traditional and modern methods of communication applications). The above projects have indicated the following recommendations.
1. Being an innovative intervention action program for the children in villages, the responses and the level of participation of all children in the program were more encouraging and invigorating at every stage. In addition to the surveyed respondents, more children showed enthusiasm to participate in the program. Obviously enough, there is a imperative need for organizing similar programmes for children in the rural areas in villages in India and other developing countries, which will certainly benefit them for the present and the future 2. Longitudinal studies on media interventions in environmental rights education program for children are highly recommended for greater impact on them. Such programmes undertaken for children on a fairly longer period will certainly prove to be productively useful and meaningful to them. 3. It is highly recommended that this action research may be replicated and implemented in every village in the rural areas. There is a need to focus on future research in this direction. Further, specially designed environmental rights education may be organized for urban children particularly in slums and backward areas. 4. Studies on environmental health for rural children and children’s rights and sustainable development, combining research as a major intervention in these programmes could be attempted. 5. In line with the methods design adopted in the present research, studies on girls and young women’s participation in environmental rights and communication in villages in suggested. 6. Communication application in promoting environmental rights among children should be promoted and a variety of media could be used in making the program truly effective and enriching for the children. 7. It is essential that school teachers, informal youth leaders and volunteers in villages should be sensitized to the environmental rights of children and trained on communication applications for promoting environment related rights among the school and non-school children. 8.Most importantly, greening the young minds of children through promoting digital opportunities to have access to on line communication and information on environmental issues and threats affecting their lives and their environmental rights and needs in villages in India is an urgent need for the present and future generation.
GOODWILL's children give water Voice at the International art contests 2008 and 2009 organised by Nature's Voice-Our Choice,USA
It is a delight to see our GOODWILL's winning children from Madurai,India at the International art contests,2008 and 2009 organised by the Nature's voice-Our Choice,USA posted in its Youtube video titled “Students Give Water a Voice” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oE-j6kLE_9k . Eight of our children have won the international poster contests in their efforts to promote the right to water at the global level. As a result, we plan to create a RAIN CENTRE in Madurai, which will organise capacity building programmes on the right to water and the right to environment,advocacy, resource sharing and networking among children and local communities.
Need for a Children's environmental health rights centre:
*In general, children in rural and semi urban India lack the basic information on the environment and environment related children's rights.
* Children lack the opportunities to learn and explore their environment physically and intellectually
* Children are easy to reach and indispensable component in achieving sustainable development
* Accessing children to environment health rights will protect them from dangers and risks
* It is a social facility enjoyed by the children in villages and backward areas
* Environmental health rights based education and networking will attract children's attention and co-operation
Objectives of the Centre:
1. Inculcating knowledge in children in rural and backward areas the ecological traditions of the local community and to develop a sense of ecological wisdom among them in villages as to the means of conserving natural resources.
2. Creating participatory training for children to learn about the principles of children’s rights in the environment, explore their environmental rights and identify their environmental needs and issues.
3. Providing education to children about the importance of physical environment and sensitize them to the environmental health rights.
4. Promoting children’s access to environmental media to arouse natural curiosity and develop a thirst for new knowledge in the area of environment.
5. Exchanging information and fostering constructive dialogue on environmental child rights with local and international NGOs involved in the promotion and protection of children’s rights
6. Preparing children to share environment information with others on a child-to-child and child-to-community.
Children will be sensitized to environmental issues and provided with an opportunity to participate in media intervention campaigns, participatory training and field exposure programmes. They will empowered with information of the environment and will be ‘environmentally concerned’ about the health rights and the need to protect and promote their rights. They will be empowered to identify potential environmental risks and solutions. They will have greater opportunities to have access to Internet based ecology and environment information. Pre-assessment and post assessment surveys to measure the level of knowledge and attitudes among the children will assess the success of the project. Qualitative assessment of the participation of children in various participatory training programmes and activities will also serve an indicator for defining success of the project. Assistance to children and their parents who are victims of environmental degradation. Parents, teachers and local community based civil society organizations in the project areas will be empowered through Education, training and awareness building in human rights for children and environmental health rights.
I invite you to become a partner of this rights based programming for children and youth in promoting environmental health rights among children and youth in India.
Goodwill social work centre
No:5,South street Extension