„Don’t pollute my future“! Children and Youth in Indonesia demand their right to a healthy environment

By Felicitas Eser und Nadine Kirchenbauer

"It is time to act and not only talk!" Children and young people around the world are committed to a sustainable future and a healthy planet and are calling upon decision-makers to act – whether at international or local level. They successfully file climate complaints, as in Colombia or the Netherlands, and most recently, with the United Nations Children's Rights Committee directly and under the guidance of Greta Thunberg. These developments show the time for action is more than overdue – also in German development cooperation!

Since last year, the GIZ Cross-sectoral programme “Realising Human Rights including Children’s Rights in Development Cooperation” has been promoting measures on children's rights in the context of the environment and climate on behalf of the BMZ Human Rights Division. One example in this regard being a workshop on children’s rights to a healthy environment, which took place from 22 to 24 October in Indonesia. 100 experts from East Asia Pacific gathered on the countryside near Jakarta, half of them under the age of 18. Under the slogan #MyPlanetMyRights, children and young people discussed with state actors, international and regional organisations, academia and civil society about their role as "agents of change" for environmental and climate policy in the region. Children and young people from Malang City (Indonesia) took part as well. Together they are part of the pilot project "GENSALIM", which stands for “environmentally conscious generation”. GENSALIM is supported by the BMZ Human Rights Division through the GIZ Cross-sectoral Programme “Realising Human Rights including Children’s Rights in Development Cooperation” and implemented by the GIZ project PAKLIM.

Also participating in the workshop via live-stream from New York: David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment who invited the participants to join him on an imaginary journey – from the wild beauty of his home country Canada to the UN level – and towards "the bigger picture":

The bigger picture!

Deforestation, air and water pollution, toxic chemicals, contaminated food, climate catastrophes… if you think of the environmental and climate risks children and young people face nowadays the list goes on and on. Studies show that children and youth are the most vulnerable group when it comes to the consequences of climate change and that environmental damages significantly violate children's rights to protection, development and participation. To address these challenges, the Global Initiative to Advance Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment was launched in 2019 under the auspices of the UN Special Rapporteur, David Boyd. Carried out by Terre des Hommes Germany, the global initiative is supported by the BMZ Human Rights Division and the GIZ Cross-sectoral Programme “Human Rights/Children’s Rights”. Other cooperation partners include Child Rights Connect, Global Child Forum, Project Dryad, UNICEF, UN Environment, UNESCO and WWF. The aim of the initiative is to establish the right to a healthy environment for children and its activities encompass a series of regional consultations worldwide, one being the aforementioned workshop in Indonesia. The multi-stakeholder consultation in Indonesia is the second workshop of the series, the first haven taken place in Colombia. Others will follow in Africa, North America and Europe. The approach pursued during the workshops follows the principle of participation: Children and young people as well as a wide range of other important stakeholders are brought together to find concrete solutions for safeguarding children's rights in the face of environmental problems. In 2021, the collected best practices and lessons learned will be presented to the United Nations Children's Rights Committee.

The chances for indeed establishing such a right are good. This year the UN Children's Rights Convention will turn 30 years old. It already addresses environmental issues through the right to education (Art. 29) and right to health (Art. 24). Furthermore, a survey by the UN Special Rapporteur revealed that more than 100 countries worldwide have enshrined the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Experts agree: States have a special obligation for protecting children when there is a threat to their rights due to severe environmental interference. This concerns both partner countries as well as Germany.

What’s next? The time is running

The children and youth in the workshop in Indonesia were full of ideas: “Plant one tree for every child!” some participants from Cambodia suggested. “Stop-using single-use plastic!” children from Samoa, India and Indonesia demanded. The Thai participants wanted to start with awareness raising for adults. One thing that everyone agreed with: Plastic and waste must be reduced and environmental education in schools is needed to be more participative and active. Young people shared their experiences about massive environmental and health damage caused by deforestation and raw material extraction in their villages and called upon stated to protect children’s rights more effectively. Civil society and academia needs to network, exchange and learn more about children's rights and the nexus with the environment. Businesses also need to be involved in this debate and must fulfil their human rights due diligence.

In a final “all-female” panel the representatives of the Indonesian Ministry for Environment and Women, together with an Indonesian activist and a civil society representative discussed the challenges in Indonesia. They identified among others haze and smoke clouds from forest fires, but also promising approaches such as "eco-schools" or "child fora" at the local level, which are committed to listen to the voice and interests of young people. Presentations by ombudswomen from Australia and Malaysia echoed similar challenges and approaches.

In sum, the discussion shows that first steps in the right direction have been taken in the region, but there is still a lot to do and that time is running, as the young people from Samoa reminded everyone: "We could lose our roots, our culture, if Samoa is sinking". Or in the words of other young participants: "It's time to act and not only talk!”


GIZ - Sector Programme "Implementing Human Rights, including Children's and Youth Rights, in Development Cooperation"

Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 36 + 40
53113 Bonn
Phone: +49 228 4460-3797