Children’s rights and the environment

Countries have obligation to prevent childhood exposure to toxics

In recent years, numerous cases have called into question the adequacy of State measures to protect human rights from toxics, in particular children’s rights.

The intoxication of children with lead-contaminated drinking water raised questions of race, poverty and discrimination. The deadly impact of an untested consumer product on pregnant women and children laid bare the magnitude to which industries fail to conduct reasonable amounts of due diligence, and the failure of States to require basic information on health and safety. Poisonings around the world by pesticides, extractive industries and industrial emissions to air and water — and their crippling impacts on the health, development and life of children — reinforce the need for strong measures to protect those most at risk.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, United Nations, 2 August 2016.

However, the problem is not limited to poisoning. Childhood exposure is a systemic problem everywhere. All around the world, children are born with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of hazardous substances in their bodies. This is leading to what doctors are referring to as a “silent pandemic” of disease and disability affecting millions during childhood and later in life. For a number of reasons, children are left without access to an effective remedy or justice for the harms of toxics and pollution, which enables perpetrators to remain unaccountable.

Children’s rights and the environment – new UN report argues endoccountries have obligation to prevent childhood exposure to toxics, heal, 27 September 2016.

daughter swimming in nappies by edwardmusiak.

Prevention of exposure is the best remedy. The best interests of the child must be a primary consideration of States in protecting children’s rights to life, survival and development, physical integrity, health, being free from the worst forms of child labour, and also to safe food, water and housing, and other rights implicated by toxics and pollution that are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. States have a human rights obligation and businesses a corresponding responsibility to prevent childhood exposure to toxic chemicals and pollution.

Read United Nations Human Rights Council Thirty-third session full report, 2 August 2016.

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