Climate warriors take over UN meeting on World Children's Day
"We are masked but not muted." On World Children's Day 2020 children around the world are speaking up for their rights and reimagining a world post COVID-19. The UN in India is listening.
In India, to mark World Children’s Day a group of young climate warriors took over the UN's virtual management meeting to voice their demands on climate change. The children sought UN support to amplify their voices and challenged the agencies to influence positive environmental policies and actions for a better, cleaner future.
Every day is a child rights day. We may not be voters but we feel our voices are stronger than adults
During the session, child advocates shared their experiences dealing with the impact of environmental degradation. Binod Debbarma, a 16-year-old from Tripura, used sign language to recount a harrowing experience of being in an earthquake at school.
"As most of us cannot speak and hear and a few of our friends use wheelchairs, we created total chaos and the younger children started to cry. This, I believe, was because we were not prepared as a school," he said, calling for every school to have an emergency plan for disaster management and every classroom to be equipped with emergency lights and sirens.
Twelve-year-old L Y Tamiltulasi from Kotagiri, Tamilnadu, has had to move homes due to the impact of climate change.
"My house got damaged due to heavy rain and soil erosion. Then I had to move to a small rented house. My mother is now working as a coolie and running a family of two children, taking care of my unwell grandfather. I demand funding and prioritization of afforestation efforts," she said.
Ten-year-old Ravi from Delhi, the youngest climate warrior in the meeting, said how it had become difficult to breathe in the capital city. The relaxation of lockdown restrictions has worsened the situation, he said, with an increase in vehicular traffic and trees being felled for construction.
Renata Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator in India, praised the efforts of the climate warriors. She brought up examples of projects that the UN is doing in India to support climate action. For instance, UNEP is working with the Indian Railways on transitioning their trains to an electric system. A UNDP project seeks to help waste pickers perform their work in a more dignified and efficient manner. In the aftermath of the floods in Kerala, UN agencies helped the southern state rebuild future flood-proof houses. UNICEF is also trying to link children working on climate action with policymakers.
Shoko Noda, the Resident Representative of UNDP India, acknowledged that today's young generation are facing a new challenge with climate change but expressed hope at their passion to resolve the issue.
"India has 356 million young people. And this is in itself an asset of the country. And as you are mobilizing, I hope you continue to be inspired and persistent in your demands," she advised.
Atul Bagai, Head of India Country Office at UNEP, shared how interactions with children made me feel both despair and hope.
"When we were young, we did not face these challenges because they did not exist. Young children who should be enjoying a nice beach or play a game in clean air are deprived of this because of what past generations have done in the last fifty years. I always apologize to the kids because of this act of destruction we have wrought all around us," he said.
On hearing the children's ideas he said "The lesson is that each and every individual has to take it upon themselves to change themselves and their environment."
Children around the country, with the support of CSO network NineisMine, have come up with a charter of demands on climate action, which will be presented to the Honorable Vice-President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, the Honorable Minister for Women and Child Development Smt. Smriti Irani and many parliamentarians.
Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, County Representative UNICEF India, reiterated her support and UNICEF’s mandate for child rights.
While we know that the children are the least responsible for climate change, they will be bearing its biggest burden. While climate change is not explicitly mentioned in the Convention of Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 12 gives children the right to participate in issues that affect them. Today you are exercising that right. We are excited that children are taking on their role in addressing climate-related risks.
Dr Yasmin urged children to continue to participate and share their views on issues that affect them. "I look forward to continuing this discussion and dialogue and for you to continue challenging us to do what we have to," she said.