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Violating children’s rights

Youth activists call for ecocide legislation to protect children’s rights
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Drought impact to river and lake around the city with two children standing on dirty road

Yesterday (20 Nov) young activists from across the world released a report on the intersection between child rights legislation and environmental damage.

Youth for Ecocide Law (Y4EL) has found that cases of severe environmental damage are violating many children’s rights, as laid out in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

50% of kids at high risk

The report highlights that children are among the groups most acutely affected by the human rights impacts of the climate and ecological crisis, with nearly half of the world’s children – estimated to be one billion – deemed to be at extremely high risk.

Additionally, two billion children are highly exposed to air pollution and just under one billion children are exposed to water scarcity, heatwaves and flooding.

‘Leaders often say that children are resilient. But you cannot be resilient to starvation. You cannot be resilient to a suffocating Earth. You cannot be resilient to extinction.

‘Children have a right to life, and they require urgent long-term solutions to protect this right. Global leaders must go beyond empty promises and non-binding pledges; they must legislate against ecocide for children and all future generations.’

Report writer, climate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

Ecocide and children’s rights

Under the 1989 Conventions ‘General Principles’, Y4EL argues that the ‘best interest of the child’ and ‘right to life, survival and development’ would be protected by global ecocide legislation.

Ecocide refers to the sustained, severe, and widespread destruction of the environment, which can include, but is not restricted to – major oil spills, deforestation, deep sea mining, and long-term water and land contamination.

Ten countries, including France, Vietnam, Ecuador and Ukraine, already criminalise ecocide.

In 2023 ecocide bills have been proposed – or are progressing – in the European Union, Brazil, Scotland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Mexico, Italy and Spain (Catalunya).

‘Currently, international criminal law does not sanction the most extreme forms of environmental harm in and of themselves. This gap represents a lack of commitment to the fundamental rights of every child to inherit a world free from ecological devastation.

‘Establishing ecocide laws at the domestic, regional, and international level will benefit current and future generations by discouraging reckless decision-making at the very highest level. 

‘We welcome this new report and anticipate building closer working relationships with UNICEF and other children’s rights organisations committed to pursuing real-world solutions, such as ecocide law, aimed at addressing the growing ecological peril faced by children worldwide.’

Co-founder and CEO of Stop Ecocide International

Criminal accountability

The youth advocates are working with Stop Ecocide International to secure international recognition of a new ecocide law aimed at holding decision-makers at the highest levels of power criminally accountable for policies that lead to the most severe cases of environmental degradation. 

The ecocide law movement, whose supporters include Greta Thunberg, Paul McCartney and the Pope, is calling for ecocide to be added to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, alongside the crime of genocide, to ensure equal protection against the most severe environmental harms for all children in countries where the court has jurisdiction.

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