This summer, about 30 experts from all over the world gathered in Geneva to talk about children’s rights and the environment. COFACE Families Europe’s expert member on this topic, the Gezinsbond, has long been advocating product and environmental standards that are tailored to what children can physically handle so that harmful substances do not get the chance to play with children’s health. The World Health Organization (WHO) also called on the alarm bell, and yet most governments fail to address the life-threatening environmental pollution for the next generations. The UN will come out with a report next spring that politicians must realize that vigilance is insufficient, but there is an urgent need for a strong policy.
In 2012, 12.6 million people died worldwide of environmental pollution, according to the WHO. That’s one in four, and 26% of them are children under 5 years old. Air pollution, water and soil pollution, exposure to chemicals, climate change and ultraviolet radiation are the causes of over 100 diseases and injuries. The major problem is non-communicable diseases (65%), mainly due to air pollution. As a result, the unborn fetus is unacceptably affected in its full development: reduced growth, low birth weight and early birth or even abortion. Mothers exposed to too much fine particles during pregnancy also see a limited lung function of their baby after birth. Cancer is now one of the world’s leading morbidity and mortality causes, with an estimated 14 million new cancer patients per year and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths in 2012. In addition, environmental degradation has an important impact on land, air, water, ecosystems and biodiversity.
The WHO reports on the impact of environmental pollution on children give clear messages, but the 53 WHO countries from the wide European region seem less pronounced. They met last June for the six-year Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health. It is particularly worrying that the earlier focus on the protection of children against environmental pollution seems to dilute. Since 2004, it has been a clear and conscious choice of countries in this region to primarily look at the protection of children when drawing up measures, while now vulnerable groups are discussed from the sideline. By the end of 2018, the 53 countries will have to submit their National Environmental and Health Action Plan (NEHAP). Gezinsbond and the Childproof platform is of the opinion that each country should develop a special action plan for children.
Fighting for a better environment for children, however, needs to be main-streamed in many different initiatives and regulations. One example of this is the current examination, by the European Parliament, of a regulation on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). Children are much more vulnerable than adults to air pollution or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and as such, it is necessary to strengthen the norms to ensure that children all across the EU can breathe cleaner air or eat better food.
Several COFACE Families Europe members joined the Gezinsbond in contacting their MEPs ahead of the 28 September vote on air quality related issues in the Environment committee of the European Parliament (ENVI). We are very pleased to confirm that the Committee voted to object to the proposed European Commission criteria to identify EDCs with 36 supporting/26 against and 0 abstentions. Now it is up to the plenary next Tuesday 3 October. Hopefully, through our coordinated action, the Gezinsbond, supported by various COFACE Families Europe Members will be able to convince MEPs to cast a vote in favour of a healthier and cleaner Europe for children.