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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights of every child across the world. Every child has the right to the best possible health. Governments must provide good quality health care, clean water, nutritious food, and a clean environment and education on health and well-being so that children can stay healthy.
HOW HAS THIS RIGHT BEEN BREACHED?
Often, environmental hazards are created as a result of business activity. In Harare, Zimbabwe, the Human Rights Watch found that children were at risk of contracting dangerous waterborne diseases. This is because they are drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that are contaminated with sewage. In Zambia, children living near former industrial lead mines have suffered from lead poisoning as their water becomes contaminated with lead. Some of these cases have been fatal.
In small-scale gold-mining regions in countries such as Mali, Ghana, and Tanzania children have been exposed to toxic mercury, which is used to process gold, and in some cases developed symptoms that are consistent with mercury poisoning.
And in one of the worst environmental health disasters in recent years, over 400 children died in Nigeria in 2010 from exposure to lead-contaminated dust produced inadvertently during artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
HOW CAN WE PROTECT THIS RIGHT?
There are many charity initiatives which have helped to protect the children’s right to a healthy environment. In Zambia, a local non-governmental organisation has supported the creation of youth groups and school youth clubs. These youth groups inform residents about environmental risks. They have also participated in a home remediation program that served as a test-run for a larger World Bank program. Home remediation involves the removal of pollutants or contaminants. The youth groups are often on the radio and they engage with local officials over pollution concerns.
In the Philippines, the government, the International Labour Organisation, and a local partner have also set up a mercury-free and child labor-free gold mining operation called “Compassionate Gold.”
Laws have also been used. In 2017, Malawi passed a law which enables people to request and obtain vital information such as water quality testing results. This information empowers Malawians to make decisions about the safety of their water, and to put pressure on the government if the water quality is below an acceptable standard. There are many steps being taken all over the world to protect children from harmful environment. This can really enrich a child’s life.