Youth Led Campaign on the right to a healthy environment – Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has very rich mineral resources which are often exploited by private businesses. The exploitation of the environment puts children at risk of having their rights violated, first and foremost their rights to life and to health.
The 2019 study conducted by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) with support from tdh “The state of children and youths’ right to a healthy and sustainable environment in Zimbabwe: Assessment of the impacts of mining on children and youth living in mining communities” revealed that mining activities in the areas of Marange, Chimanimani Hotsprings and Zvishavane resulted in adverse environmental impacts on children and young people: land degradation, water pollution, air pollution and noise pollution. Furthermore, due to irregular waste collection in areas around Harare, illegal waste dumpsites were setup in areas previously designated as leisure grounds for children and young people, violating their right to play and to health. In this context, girls faced extra challenges, such as child pregnancy, school dropouts, exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, due to the presence of male mining workers living in their communities.
Although Zimbabwe is a signatory of key international and regional instruments - particularly the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children - and has national legislation and policies (such as the Constitution, the Environmental Management Act, the Education Act, the Mines and Minerals Act, the Children’s Act, and the Public Health Management Act) to promote ECR, it struggles to enforce those and to ensure the protection of the rights of children and young people living in mining communities and surrounding areas. The situation is only worsened by the fact that many communities were often unaware of the right of children to grow up in a healthy environment and had no opportunity to neither engage nor act for the protection of their own territories.
There was therefore a need to raise awareness among children, youths, community members, policy makers and all duty bearers on the urgency of adopting a child rights approach to environmental management and protection.
The aim of the project was to promote awareness and help respect and implement the right to a safe and clean environment for children and young people living in mining communities, with their involvement as agents of change. The main target group for this project were children 13-17 and young people aged 18-25, along with communities and policy makers.
The main measure of the project was a campaign created from the beginning by children and young people, tdh staff and tdh partners. The creative process was child-led, as children and young people came up with the concept and relied very little on the input from adults and experts. They showed good leadership and ownership of the campaign, which was largely focused on the right of the child to a healthy environment.
The direct beneficiaries of the campaign were 50 children (13-17) and 240 young people within the Zimbabwe Youth Network (18- 25) whilst 3,000 indirect beneficiaries were targeted as well. While leading the campaign, children and young people reached beyond their network to the broader regional tdh Youth Network, the Zimbabwe Youth Council, the Junior Parliament and other actors, including relevant ministries and civil society organisations.
tdh’s partner, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association - ZELA, connected with a youth representative from a mining community to share their experiences and identify the main challenges faced by children and young people.
Children and young people successfully engaged with the media to push for their own agenda. They also strongly collaborated with local partners.
The newly created Youth Network campaigned to raise awareness on the need for protection, respect, and fulfilment of environmental rights of the young people and the communities living in the mining provinces. The network successfully exposed the harsh conditions that mining communities are exposed to by publishing a brief to inform policy makers on the matter.
Children and young people strongly engaged in public dialogues on the right of the child to a healthy environment, radio talks and campaigns which included photo voices, a youth symposium, essay writing competitions and the organisation of workshops on the right to a healthy environment. Through the efforts of the project’s participants, other tdh youth networks from Mozambique, Zambia, and South Africa became aware of the campaign. As a follow-up, a regional committee was created to expand the campaign to other countries.
The Youth Network and tdh convened a high-level workshop with key stakeholders including government officials to discuss environmental rights of children living in mining communities and ensure that future policies would address these issues and concerns.
Interestingly, as COVID-19 hit the country, tdh organised several creative replacement activities. These included the drafting of legal opinions, public health and environmental opinions, essays, poems, stories, and messages from the ground on the COVID-19 pandemic by children and young people in communities and e-law societies.
In 2020, during the second phase of the project, children produced short video blogs (vlogs) in Marange, Chimanimani Hotsprings and Zvishavane with community members and young people. They captured the impact that mining is having on environmental children’s rights. The vlogs are being shared on ZELA’s social media platforms and are available online.
Children also initiated a Twitter campaign to preserve a national park by using the hashtag #SaveHwangeNationalPark. Once again, the ZELA/tdh youth network participated strongly in campaigning initiatives using social media platforms to sensitise and inform the public and to advocate about the activities of mining industries which violate the rights of children by damaging the environment where they live and grow up.
The partner organisation, ZELA, implemented its child safeguarding policy under the guidance of a focal person when engaging with the youth networks. In its second phase, in 2020, the project also included training for children on safety and security, conducted with the assistance of human rights defenders’ partners like Frontline Defenders or Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network.
Spotlight on… Methods of engagement
In the Zimbabwe-focused project ‘Protecting Environmental Child and Youth Rights’, children engaged in the use of the photo-voice methodology for environmental awareness. This proved to be a very successful method which increased child and youth participation and their level of engagement.
Results/ Monitoring and Evaluation
This children-led media campaign reached its goal to contribute to increase awareness, protection, respect and fulfilment of environmental child rights by policy makers, duty bearers and the public with particular attention to the mining communities. For instance, the ZELA Youth Network drafted three letters targeting three key stakeholders:
- The Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) – the letter explained how violations on child right to a healthy environment by the company are having a negative impact on the right to education and overall wellbeing of children. Regrettably, the ZCDC has not replied at the time of project reporting.
- The Parliament of Zimbabwe – this letter called for the Parliament to adopt a more child rights-based approach. The Parliament responded stating that they will look into this issue.
- The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) – the last letter highlighted the need to consider children’s rights in environmental management activities. The EMA confirmed its commitment to investigate these matters.
In its first phase (2019), amongst its impressive results, the campaign achieved the following:
- 90 community members (including children) received training on how to carry out ECR monitoring in an independent way.
- 165 children and young people participated in evidence-informed campaigning to promote the implementation of environmental children’s rights in mining communities.
In 2020, it was reported that a total of 133 children had participated in activities to raise awareness on their right to a healthy environment. Further, 125 children and young people took part in child-led initiatives aimed at the protection of the environment as well as awareness-raising activities via radio, television programs, blogs, and social media. Other forms of non-digital campaigning were used such as open letters to government institutions.
Lastly, 8 children – 4 boys and 4 girls – took part in a dialogue series of activities on the right of the child to a healthy environment. Overall, these activities increased the engagement of children and young people, who effectively became active actors contributing to the progressive realisation of the right to a healthy environment in their communities.
Spotlight on… Methods of engagement
There are many creative ways that can be used to implement a campaign. The Mangrove Protection project in Mozambique adopted an original approach which involved a local musician who composed a campaign song to further sensitise the community on the right of the child to a healthy environment and related issues.