Indian students advocate for ecological rights, seek edits in United Nations document

Indian students advocate for ecological rights, seek edits in United Nations document
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New Delhi, India: Amid rising environmental problems, over 300 children from India presented their recommendations on the draft of UN General Comment 26 (GC 26) to Mikiko Otani, the United Nations Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The students from schools and NGOs across India representing diverse socio-economic-linguistic and regional backgrounds, as well as those from varied abilities and disabilities, had joined the fortnight-long 'Inclusive YoUth Negotiations' (IN-U.N) to unearth the evolving GC 26 which the world member states of the United Nations are scheduled to adopt in September 2023.

The children as part of the national child-led advocacy initiative called NINEISMINE, consulted COP 27 participants, UN Officials, Earth and Child Rights specialists, and students from numerous schools to fine-tune the ADvocal charter. The charter was generated with the support of 3000 children who hailed mainly from vulnerable communities who are likely to be impacted more by the consequences of climate change and environmental pollution.

Speaking about the same, Otani said, "I was greatly inspired and impressed by the children. I appreciate children: the knowledge each one of them has on GC26 and child rights which even adults lack."

Otani further mentioned that all the recommendations proposed by children indicated what children actually want. She also stated that she would study all the recommendations carefully and submit it to the committee.

Students also interacted with the UNICEF India Country office officials to design a new campaign on Climate Change where the children engaged with the team on various child rights and earth rights challenges at local and national level.

The young earth citizens participating on this platform insisted on renaming this document as their ecological rights rather than their environmental rights towards the recognition of their status as interconnected members of the one big earth community.

During the preparatory sessions, the students analyzed the draft of the General Comment 26 document with the help of multiple rights-based perspectives such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the UN Environment Framework Principles, and the Human Rights Criteria checklist.

Kartik Verma (17) climate and child rights activist from Bhadohi district in Uttar Pradesh, the Child Advisor to GC 26 representing South-Asia and member of the NINEISMINE campaign will formally be taking these recommendations virtually to all the ongoing UN negotiations. Further, he will table the same at the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva this September when this document will be tabled on the ground and adopted by the Permanent Missions of all the member states. The final and formal statement of the IN-U.N. will be officially submitted to the OHCHR as it has announced a deadline of the 15th of February for all non-diplomatic submissions.

Steve Rocha, the Director of PRATYeK and the NINEISMINE National convener said, "There was so much energy, enthusiasm and edutainment from the students who demanded that they and no other child be left behind in this dialogue around their ecological rights. It is important to recognize the innocent, innate, intuitive, and inclusive wisdom of child earth citizens that added valuable inputs into the draft GC 26 that even the Global experts, World leaders, and UN rapporteurs had overlooked."

In June 2021, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child decided to draft a General Comment on children's rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change. The Committee now invites all interested stakeholders to comment on its draft general comment.

In October 2021, the Committee invited State parties to comment on the concept note of the general comment. The General Comment is being informed by the collective, from human rights institutions, Indigenous People organizations to United Nations agencies. Most importantly, it is being shaped by children and young people, especially from communities most impacted by the environmental crisis.