By Mekong Youth Assembly

I. Ecological Child Rights

The last few decades have seen a huge rise in public awareness regarding the causes and effects of human-induced environmental degradation. Worldwide, people are experiencing the negative impact of water and food shortages, soil, air and water pollution or natural disasters. Environmental pollution frequently crosses borders and is even felt at the global level, as in the case of climate change. The costs are borne, above all, by those who can least protect themselves: the children of today and tomorrow! Already many children, particularly in developing countries, are prevented from growing up in a healthy environment: every year three million under-five-year-olds die of environment related ill-nesses. That is more than one in three deaths among children. At the same time the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, the loss of biodiversity and other irrevocable ecological damage darken children’s future prospects. Young people are doubly punished since, today and as adults, they have to live with the consequences of environmental degradation. It is amazing that – although future generations will have to pay for the unscrupulous handling of nature – their interests, rights and voices usually go completely unheard in the world of politics and business.

Children’s rights direct the focus of environmental and sustainability policy to the unequal power relations that exist between children and adults, between industrialized and developing countries, between rich and poor. Yet, in many areas, we observe the lack of legal and institutional preconditions required for meeting the human rights challenges arising from ecological damage in the 21th century.

The voices of children must be heard because policy-making on climate or biodiversity is about their future. They will also inherit the responsibility of looking after the earth: in the worst case they will encounter an environment offering them extremely limited opportunities for their life and development. Children are in a very similar position to still unborn future generations. They will have to cope with the earth that we have left them, without themselves having an effective means of control. When taking normative and institutional protective measures, decision-makers must give urgent consideration to how strongly future generations will depend on decisions of generations alive now[1].


Dam affected children celebrated the International Day of Action for Rivers and Opposes the Lower Sesan 2 Dam in Cambodia [Credit: 3SPN]

II. Ecological Child Rights in International Law

The first international environmental conference in Stockholm (1972), the international community declared that man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and wellbeing, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations (Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration). Environmental protection was thus recognized as a prerequisite for the realization of human and child rights -for the first time in an international law document![2]


Credit: KESAN

First Earth Summit in Rio (1992), states emphasized the significance of procedural rights for the protection of the environment, that is, the involvement in environmental decision-making as well as access to information and remedies (Principle 10) in environmental affairs. To make effective environmental protection through procedural human and child rights, it is necessary to mobilize the youth and children that means to consider the creativity and ideas, then encourage them to force global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure the better for all (principle 21).

            The UNCRC does not explicitly mention Ecological Children’s Rights, however they can be deduced from a number of articles (articles 3, 6 and 24). Article 3 mentions that all procedures and actions concerning children are to consider ‘the best interests of the child’. Article 6 manifests the right of each child to survival and development, and article 24 emphasizes the right of each child to achieve the highest possible level of health (paragraph c states that when fighting illnesses or malnutrition, environmental factors have to be considered; paragraph e constitutes that in education the children are to be taught respect towards their natural environment).

Environmental issues are explicitly dealt with in the specific context of child health and education as mentioned in UNCRC [3]:
Art.24 I (c): (…)To combat disease and malnutrition (…), taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution.
Art.29: The right to (environmental) education plays a vital role in the realization of child

rights.  Art. 29 I (e): States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to (…) the development of respect for the natural environment.

Fulfillment requires a certain quality of the environment and the preservation of natural resources. As the general principles of the CRC  should guarantee that environmental decision-making takes into account of children and their rights (participation, nondiscrimination, best interest- principle, rights to life, survival and development).

Issues of specific concern in relation to children[4]:

Vulnerability, dependence and marginalization of children requires both protection through minimum substantive environmental standards (e.g. safe limits) and tailored procedural rights (e.g. right to be heard) Distinct needs of children, including to play in natural environments and experience the animal world.

III. Realizing Ecological Rights for All Children:  Extraterritorial obligations[5]

 The realization of children’s rights is primarily a domestic obligation, but at the same time states also have an international duty to give effect to children’s rights. There are two important reasons for this, ecologically speaking: first, environmental degradation frequently crosses borders (e.g. air or water pollution, hydropower dams on Mekong river); its consequences are thus also felt by people in other countries. In this context climate change poses a special challenge: It is primarily caused by industrialized nations – and meanwhile also by many emerging economies – but its consequences mostly hit poor people in developing countries. The relevance of international human rights obligations can be shown in another respect as well. Economic globalization has led to transnational activities of more and more private companies. This also raises the risk of their causing considerable environmental pollution abroad. Unfortunately economic globalization is being supplemented only gradually by legal globalization. In many developing countries (ie. countries in ASEAN) human rights violations by foreign companies are not pursued because there are only weak structures for the rule of law or there is a lack of political will to prosecute offenders.


Credit: 3SPN

As many violations of the rights of future generations have taken on global dimensions (e.g. climate change) or are deeply rooted in the international political or economic system (e.g. resource exploitation), so that solutions can only be found at the international level. At the same time it is important to create Ombuds person offices that are accessible for those concerned, particularly children, where they live and have expertise – i.e. at the regional, national and local level.

Shortcomings and the need for a Concept of Ecological Child Rights[6]

  • The interrelation between environment, development and child rights has not yet been duly explored or recognized at the international level, while existing obliagations have not been fully implemented.
  • The concept of ecological child rights sheds light on the interdependence of environmental and child rights protection and points to increasing human-induced environmental harm

Aims of Concept of Ecological Child Rights[7]

  • Call upon the international community to explicitly recognize the right to a safe, healthy and ecologically sound environment, thereby acknowledging the relevance of environmental destruction in the context of child rights protection in development projects: mining, hydropower dams and Economic Land Concession,.
  • Demand that national and international decision-making in the field of environment be based on child rights norms and principles. In many areas of environmental politics (such as climate politics) there is no clear commitment.

The fact that future generations still lack a proper representation of their interests is due both to the lack of legal authority of existing commitments and also the lack of effective implementation and accountability mechanisms. The goal must be to finally end discrimination against future generations and their needs in the form of legally guaranteed rights and other institutional safeguards. After protection measures or other forms of disaster prevention lead to displacements and forced evictions. Families thereby often lose their access to natural resources. Displacements have particularly serious consequences for children, because family stability, their livelihoods and their rights to education and health are threatened (The case clearly happened in Koh kong Sugar Plantation, Cambodia). Severe environmental problems such as climate change, but also the loss of biological diversity, persistent pollutants and the ruthless exploitation of resources are largely due to a global development model that is primarily based on economic growth and subordinates all other social and ecological interests to it[8].


[8] Ecological Child Rights- a concept, terre des homes

[7] Ecological Child Rights- a concept, terre des homes

[6] Terre des homes “Environmental Child rights”, Last modified June 16,2015.

[5] Ecological Child Rights- a concept

[4] Terre des homes “Environmental Child rights”, Last modified June 16,2015.

[3] Ecological Child Rights- a concept ,“Environmental Protection and the CRC” , Terre des homes

[2] Ecological Child Rights- a concept

[1] Terre des homes “Environmental Child rights”, Last modified June 16,2015.