Children and adults play with bubbles beside the River Thames in London. Credit Manjesh/Pixahive

Do we owe our kids an apology this World Children’s Day?

Do we owe our kids an apology this World Children’s Day?

Jeremy Lasek and Dr Fiona Robards – PHAA

Tomorrow, 20 November, we ‘celebrate’ the United Nations’ World Children’s Day. Or should we?

As tens of millions of children and young people are hindered daily by conflict and war, poverty, the ongoing pandemic, and a climate crisis which the ‘grown ups’ seem unable to adequately deal with, you could forgive children, or their carers, for tempering any celebrations.

Given the gloomy scenario for the lives of so many young people, why bother having a World Children’s Day at all? The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) believes this World Children’s Day it’s more important than ever that adults listen to their ideas and demands.

Children and young people not only have a right to participate in policy discussions, they also bring refreshing enthusiasm and blue-sky thinking that can be so helpful in finding policy solutions.

Before we explore the greatest challenge facing mankind right now, and the impact of climate change on today’s children, let’s revisit the creation of World Children’s Day and its theme this year: A better future for every child.

What is Universal Children’s Day?

Initially launched in 1954, World Children’s Day’s goal is to improve child welfare worldwide, promote and celebrate children’s rights, and promote togetherness and awareness among all children. It also marks the anniversary when the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration and Convention of Children’s Rights.

The Convention sets out a number of children’s rights, such as the rights to be protected from violence and discrimination and the rights to life, health and education.

What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

In 1989, against the backdrop of changing world order, world leaders came together and made a historic commitment to the world’s children and young people.

They made a promise to every child to protect and fulfil their rights. They did this by adopting an international legal framework – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Contained in this treaty is a profound idea: that children are human beings and individuals with their own rights. The Convention says childhood and adolescence lasts until 18; it is a special, protected time in which children and young people must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish.

The Convention became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, and has helped transform children and young people’s lives.

Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention has 54 Articles which, if followed to the letter, would ensure every child and young person on the planet can live a safe, respected, happy and fulfilled early life.

We commend revisiting the 54 Articles over your weekend coffee as a worthy 10-minute investment of your time, and as a reminder of those important child rights which remain as worthy today as when they were adopted.

For those with serious time constraints, we highlight the following:

  • Article 6: Children have the right to live a full life. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.
  • Article 16: Children have the right to privacy.


Children and climate change

In August this year, UNICEF launched a disturbing, first comprehensive analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective, The climate crisis is a child rights crisis: introducing the children’s climate risk index.

It ranks countries based on children’s exposure to climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, as well as their vulnerability to those shocks, based on their access to essential services.

The report found approximately 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s 2.2 billion children – live in one of the 33 countries classified as ‘extremely high-risk’. These children face a deadly combination of exposure to multiple climate and environmental shocks with a high vulnerability due to inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare and education.

The findings reflect the number of children affected today – figures likely to increase as climate change accelerates.

The Children’s Climate Risk Index reveals:

  • 240 million children are highly exposed to coastal flooding;
  • 330 million children are highly exposed to riverine flooding;
  • 400 million children are highly exposed to cyclones;
  • 600 million children are highly exposed to vector borne diseases;
  • 815 million children are highly exposed to lead pollution;
  • 820 million children are highly exposed to heatwaves;
  • 920 million children are highly exposed to water scarcity;
  • 1 billion children are highly exposed to exceedingly high levels of air pollution

While nearly every child around the world is at risk from at least one of these climate and environmental hazards, the data reveal the worst affected countries face multiple and often overlapping shocks that threaten to erode development progress and deepen child deprivations.

The UNICEF report says “Children and young people will face the full devastating consequences of the climate crisis and water insecurity, yet they are the least responsible. We have a duty to all young people and future generations.”

UNICEF calls for governments, businesses and relevant actors to:  include children and young people in all climate-related decision making and provide children with climate education and greens skills, critical for their adaptation to and preparation for the effects of climate change.

The PHAA has been particularly active in addressing climate change, adding its voice to the many calling on our governments, business and broader community to be more proactive.

The PHAA policy on mental health and climate change  says ‘children and youth have increased vulnerability to the mental health impacts of climate change; they represent a vulnerable group that is likely to disproportionately suffer the direct and indirect health impacts caused by climate disruption.’

A previous Intouch Public Health blog, Mental health and adaptation to climate change, said “movements like Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike for Climate protests show that increasing numbers are recognising that climate change presents a real threat. The 2020 Lancet Commission, A future for the world’s children? found that rising inequality and environmental crises are major threats to peace and stability.”

While the voices of young people were heard in Glasgow, it was mainly aging men in dark suits whose voices dominated, and who ultimately made the decisions that will determine what sort of world our children and young people will inherit in the 2030s, 2040s, and beyond.

The PHAA policy on Mental Health and Climate Change has never been more relevant.  It states: “There should be increased avenues for children and young people to have a meaningful say on important issues and public affairs such as responding to global warming, to ensure their views are taken into account to design the actions to be taken.”

Maybe next year

Having failed our youngest citizens in Glasgow yet again, perhaps COP-27 can give a more meaningful voice to the very people who’ll eventually be handed the keys to the planet and expected to fix it.

It is with a sense of apology to our young, while ever-hopeful that sanity might soon prevail, that we call on you to recognise World Children’s Day.

Dr Fiona Robards is a lecturer at the University of Sydney and is co-convenor of PHAA’s Child and Youth Health SIG.

Image: Manjesh/Pixahive

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