Mekong Youth Assembly
Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Lao PDR
Children and young people across 4 countries in the Mekong region felt the need to advocate for the right of the child to a healthy environment and influence decision-making processes to bring positive change at local, regional and national levels around environmental degradation.
The project stemmed from localities where environmental issues are part of day-to-day life, so in communities where children and young people are involved and tend to participate because they are direct victims of environmental degradation, e.g., river pollution.
The 5 strategic areas where the project was implemented are the following:
- Thailand: Nam Phong River and Salween River,
- Myanmar: Salween River,
- Vietnam: Mekong Delta Area,
- Lao PDR: Mekong River.
Children organised themselves into youth-led networks which referred to an umbrella body called the Mekong Youth Assembly (MYA) – formerly known as the Mekong Youth Network and Mekong Youth Parliament.
With the support of terre des hommes Germany, MYA first initiated a project aiming at »the formation of youth environmental networks in the Greater Mekong Sub-region countries«. This initiative started in 2011 and aimed to raise awareness and engage children and young people on the issues faced in the Mekong region through online communication such as weblogs.
All children, including those living in marginalised areas, acted to bring positive change. They did so through advocating for their rights and for the right to a healthy environment, participating directly in policy-making processes, and by engaging the media effectively.
MYA currently has 1,616 members.
The main objectives of this project were to (i) involve an additional 630 members of MYA to promote environmental rights of children in their own communities, and (ii) support 25 youth leaders to influence policy-making processes at the national level and in the Mekong Region. The members and leaders translate their new expertise into local networks, which is a strong multiplicator effect.
In 2020, youth experts from MYA supported by terre des hommes Germany contributed at the national and regional level to introduce or amend legislation or provisions concerning children and the environment, and in particular contributed to the »Principles and Implementation Guidance on Children’s Rights to a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment in ASEAN« (ASEAN: Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
MYA representatives also participated in a Virtual Expert Meeting with UN institutions working in the region to develop a policy guide for promoting and protecting children’s right to a healthy environment in ASEAN. Following up, children and young people also organised a consultation process for other young people on the implementation of the policy guidance.
Regarding media engagement, the MYA created a Facebook group to build an online community of children environmental activists and advocate.
They also contributed to the ASEAN youth development Index, an index measuring environmental protection impact / influence. This tool ensured that children and young people could influence policy and decision-making at different levels.
The MYA initiatives also led to a lot of attention on environmental protection at large and particularly on the effects of pollution. For instance, this led to the implementation of water testing practices and to use the data collected to denounce the negative practices and to counteract the effects of pollution in the longer term. A company polluting the Klity Creek River with lead was taken to court by MYA members and forced to close their mining site. The fight for compensation of the badly affected villagers continues.
Moreover, the project contributed at the national and regional level to the introduction or amendment of legislation or provisions relating to children and the environment in at least 2 regions.
The project also fostered protection of environmental children’s rights as well as participation rights, i.e. freedom of expression and freedom of assembly to facilitate children’s participation in environmental campaigns. Particular attention was given to young people living in difficult situations and marginalised communities, and by adopting a gender lens to its activities too.
Results / M&E
The MYA project can be considered a flagship project when it comes to the participation of children and young people in advocating and protecting their right to a healthy environment in the South-East Asia region. Children activists were at the forefront of this initiative and demonstrated excellent leadership skills by organising their own peer-to-peer activities.
This project is worth mentioning because of its wide-ranging impact which was not only concerned with multiple countries but also engaged several components of child rights programming. Notably, one of the achievements of the project was the translation and publication of the ECR guidebook in six Mekong languages.
Overall, there were 209 cases which demonstrated effective change for children in relation to their protection from environmental degradation in the 4 countries involved in the Mekong region.
SPOTLIGHT ON… Methods of engagement
The Mekong Youth Assembly (MYA) project was conducted with children and young people living in marginalised communities and border areas such as forests and riverbanks. Some of them also belonged to vulnerable groups such as indigenous communities, stateless children etc.
Many of them were not aware of their right to a healthy environment. Therefore, the project conducted a rights analysis first: children and young people need to know their rights. The children analysed their rights by themselves and understood how to advocate for the right of the child to a healthy environment in the best way possible.