Child Protection Week: Protecting Children by Protecting the Environment

As the world celebrates the Child Protection Week, PTCIJ brings to you simple facts relating to children and environment.

The celebration is an opportunity to recognize the important work of individuals and organizations who work with children, young people and their families.

The UNICEF, in a report released on May 17, said the number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has increased nearly five-fold since 2010. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, the report stated.

A staggering 15 million children under the age of 14 are working across Nigeria. Many are exposed to long hours of work in dangerous and unhealthy environments, carrying too much responsibility for their age. Working in these hazardous conditions with little food, small pay, no education and no medical care establishes a cycle of child rights violations.

Each year, around three million children under the age of five die due to environment-related diseases.

Acute respiratory infections annually kill an estimated 1.6 million children under the age of five. As much as 60 percent of acute respiratory infections worldwide are related to environmental conditions.

Diarrhea diseases claim the lives of nearly 1.5 million children every year. Eighty to 90 percent of these diarrhoea cases are related to environmental conditions, in particular, contaminated water and inadequate sanitation.

Nearly 1 million children under the age of five died of malaria in 2008. Up to 90 percent of malaria cases are attributed to environmental factors.

A safe, healthy and protective environment is key to ensuring all children grow and develop normally and healthily. In 2015, reducing environmental risks could have prevented more than a quarter of the 5.9 million deaths of children under five years.

Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, hazardous chemicals, climate change, and inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

Fact 1: More than 1 in 4 child deaths could be prevented by cleaning up the environment

Every year, environmental risks such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, and unsafe water and sanitation take the lives of 1.7 million children under five years – 26% of child deaths.

Protecting Children by Protecting the Environment
Protecting Children by Protecting the Environment

Fact 2: Asthma prevalence in children is increasing worldwide

Worldwide, 11-14% of children aged five years and older currently report asthma symptoms. Many of these symptoms are related to indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand tobacco smoke, pollens and indoor mold and dampness.

Fact 3: Air pollution is the greatest environment risk to children’s health

Every year, more than 570 000 children under five years die from respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, linked to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand tobacco smoke.

Fact 4: Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene could prevent 361 000 child deaths from diarrhoea

Diarrhoeal diseases are among the main causes of deaths for children under five years. Every year, 361 000 children under 5 years die from diarrhoea, which could be prevented by improved access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and ending open defecation.

Fact 5: Acute childhood poisoning from pesticides can be life-threatening

Chemical pesticides are widely used to protect crops and control certain disease vectors, such as mosquitoes, to remove vegetation in public areas and control pests in homes. Unsafe use, storage and disposal of pesticides are the main causes of acute poisoning among children.

Fact 6: Malaria caused more than 300 000 deaths in children under five in 2015

Malaria, the most important vector-borne disease globally, is transmitted by the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, which prefer clean, standing, or slowly moving fresh water. Better environmental management of these water bodies could help prevent the more than 300 000 deaths in children under five years.

Fact 7: Lead is one of the most harmful chemicals, especially to young children

Young children are most vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly on the development of the brain and nervous system. Since young children spend relatively large amounts of time on the ground and frequently put their fingers and other objects in their mouths they have an increased risk of lead exposure.

Fact 8: Unintentional poisonings cause an estimated 23 000 deaths in children under five every year

It is important to protect children from poisons. They are particularly vulnerable to poisons because of their smaller size and less developed physiology and because they like to explore and often put items in their mouth. Common poisons include toxic household chemicals (cleaning products, weed and insect killers), medicines, petrol, kerosene, solvents, seeds, berries, mushrooms as well as venom from snakes and spiders.

Fact 9: Early exposure to environmental risks contributes to childhood cancers

While much about the origin of childhood cancers remains unknown, environmental risks such as solar and ionizing radiation, second-hand tobacco smoke, aflatoxins, and some pesticides, to name a few, contribute to childhood cancers and continues to impact cancer development later in life.

Fact 10: Climate change increases the risk of disease, especially for children in developing countries

Climate change is one of the greatest new threats to children’s environmental health. Higher temperatures and higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide favoring pollen growth are associated with increased rates of asthma. Disruption to fresh water supplies and food crop harvests will exacerbate malnutrition and stunting. More frequent heat waves will put children at risk of heat stress, renal disease and respiratory illness.


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