In 2018, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment (the Special Rapporteur) submitted a report to the Human Rights Council on the relationship between children’s rights and environmental protection. The Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI), created under the auspices of the Special Rapporteur, UNEP, UNICEF and six other core partners, characterized the challenge for children’s rights and environmental protection as a lack of both clear normative and practical guidance on applying child rights in the environmental context. One of the most fundamental obstacles to the effective protection of children against environmental harm is a general lack of awareness of the many links between a safe and healthy environment on the one hand, and children’s rights on the other. Those concerned with children’s rights and those who protect the environment often focus on one topic to the exclusion of the other. As a consequence, children’s rights tend to be overlooked in decision-making on the environment, which leads to adverse outcomes in terms of their health, development, and opportunities in life.
At the 44th session of the Human Rights Council on 1 July 2020, which included panel discussions on realizing the rights of the child through a healthy environment, many States requested guidance on how to support children’s rights to a healthy environment and involve children in decision-making processes, and particularly on how to do that at the regional level.
ASEAN has laid the foundation for a regional approach to children’s rights to a healthy environment. All ASEAN Member States are Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and also to key multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). ASEAN has already adopted three declarations that have provisions pertaining to children’s rights to a healthy environment. However, there has been no comprehensive policy guidance to date for ASEAN governments and regional actors on this issue.
Against this background, UNEP and UNICEF joined with OHCHR to convene a regional Virtual Expert Group Meeting, on 15, 16, and 23 July 2020, to develop policy guidance for promoting and protecting children’s rights to a healthy environment in ASEAN. The objectives of that meeting were to: (a) identify a common understanding among experts in ASEAN Member States on policy guidance for laying the foundation for promoting and protecting children’s rights to a healthy environment in the ASEAN region; (b) draft guiding principles; and (c) provide the basis for UNICEF, UNEP, OHCHR and ASEAN stakeholders to strengthen awareness of children’s rights to a healthy environment and further reinforce the political will to protect them.
The output of the Virtual Expert Group Meeting was a draft of 37 guiding principles for children’s rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in ASEAN. The guiding principles will form Part I of a policy guidance document that will also provide, in Part II, direction for children, the public and private sectors, civil society organisations, and the media to assist them in applying the guiding principles.