Environment & Children

Environmental education and Communication Program for children in villages,Madurai, India (1994-1997)

Protection of environment has posed not only a major challenge but also a social and moral responsibility in the present society. In recent times, the subject of environment has interested the general public and caught the attention and enthusiasm of children in particular. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development affirms that children are an indispensable component in achieving sustainable development. In addition, one chapter in Agenda 21 is solely devoted to children and youth in sustainable development and portrays the special role that they can play in this process, while other chapters recognize the conditions of extreme poverty in which children live and the perpetual state of hunger the many suffer as a consequence of environment degradation.

Obviously enough, there is an increasing evidence in support of the crucial role that children can and must play in environmental protection through their participation and also developing of appropriate mechanisms that protect the children’s rights to a decent environment. The term environment refers to circumstances surrounding children, especially the combinations of external physical conditions, which affect and influence the growth, development and survival of children and the complex of social conditions affecting the nature of children and the community in which they live. The UN Convention on the rights of child (1989).

Globalization is linked with the children’s rights as evidenced in the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child 1989, which proclaims the following child rights relating to environment to be protected and promoted by the State parties.

Article: 6-Right to life, Article: 12-Right to express views, Article: 13-Freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information, Article: 15-Freedom of association, perhaps in relation to formation of environmental groups, Article: 16- Privacy, Article: 17-Access to information including national and international sources, especially material aimed at promotion of the child’s physical and mental health, Article: 24- Right of the child to the enjoyment of highest attainable standard of health, Article: 27-Right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s development, Article: 28 & 29 -Education, Article: 31-Right of the child to rest and leisure and to engage in play and recreational activities.

Knowing the importance of promoting the environmental rights among children and providing opportunity for them to effectively participate in practice-based learning experiences, the Goodwill social work centre, a non-governmental organization involved in child development and research in Madurai, India undertook a ‘Media interventions in children’s environmental rights education’ as part of the comprehensive ‘Environmental education and communication program for children in villages, Madurai and Kamaraj Districts,Tamilnadu, South India. The programmes were designed as an intervention -oriented research within the framework of quasi-experimental.

Objectives :

  • To inculcate knowledge in rural children the ecological traditions of the local community and to develop a sense of ecological wisdom among them in villages as to the means of conserving natural resources.
  • To create participatory training for children to learn about the principles of children’s rights in the environment, explore their environmental rights and identify their environmental needs and issues.
  • To promote children’s access to environmental media to arouse natural curiosity and develop a thirst for new knowledge in the area of environment.
  • To prepare children to share environment information with others on a child-to-child and child-to-community.

Geographical area and location of the project :

In the first phase (1994-1995), the project was implemented in ten villages in the Narikudi village panchayat block, Kamarajar district, Tamilnadu, South India under the aegis of the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. In the second phase(1996—1997) , the project was replicated in Therkutheru Villages, Madurai East Village panchayat union block, Madurai district, Tamilnadu, South India, funded by US based DuPont South Asia Limited, Madurai under Safety Health and Environment (SHE) award. The participants included 300 children in the 8-16 years of age were selected. Of 300 children, 158 were males and the remainder (142) were females. During the second phase, 157 children comprising males and females in the 10-16 years of age were selected.

Programme components included :

  • Environmental education
  • Participatory training in eco-action programmes
  • Media interventions (traditional and modern methods)
  • Field study and exposure visits.

As part of the project, the Goodwill Social Work Centre organized a variety of environmental action programs for the children with a view to providing them with opportunities and benefits to participate and to share environmental information with others on a child to child and to community basis namely a. Bio-diversity conservation contests for children b.Animal welfare education and communication c. Nursery raising d. Tree planting e.Formation of Eco-Media Clubs f. Green Rallies g. Poster Exhibitions h. Environmental awareness contests i. Learn of the environment j. Inter village children’s sports meets and k. Free medical check ups for children and their families.

Outcomes :

  • Being an innovative intervention action program for the children in villages, the responses and the level of participation of all children in the programme were more encouraging and invigorating at every stage. In addition to the surveyed respondents, more children showed enthusiasm to participate in the program. Obviously enough, there is a imperative need for organizing similar programs for children in the rural areas in villages in India and other developing countries, which will certainly benefit them for the present and the future.
  • Longitudinal studies on media interventions in environmental rights education programme for children are highly recommended for greater impact on them. Such programs undertaken for children on a fairly longer period will certainly prove to be productively useful and meaningful to them.
  • It is highly recommended that this action research may be replicated and implemented in every village in the rural areas. There is a need to focus on future research in this direction. Further, specially designed environmental rights education may be organized for urban children particularly in slums and backward areas.
  • Studies on environmental health for rural children and children’s rights and sustainable development, combining research as a major intervention in these programs could be attempted.
  • In line with the methods design adopted in the present research, studies on girls and young women’s participation in environmental rights and communication in villages is suggested.
  • Communication application in promoting environmental rights among children should be promoted and a variety of media could be used in making the program truly effective and enriching for the children.
  • It is essential that school teachers, informal youth leaders and volunteers in villages should be sensitized to the environmental rights of children and trained on communication applications for promoting environment related rights among the school and non-school children.
  • Most importantly, greening the young minds of children through promoting digital opportunities to have access to on line communication and information on environmental issues and threats affecting their lives and their environmental rights and needs in villages in India is an urgent need for the present and future generation.

It is an undeniable fact that children have a vital role to play in environmental protection and they have a right to decent environment it is our responsibility to recognize their environmental rights and identify them as future environmental managers as participants in sharing the world’s resources. They should be given genuine opportunities to live in pleasant and healthy surroundings. In the words of Paula. M. Pevato “children cannot look forward to inheriting a safe and healthy environment unless their elders set an example by cooperating so that the essence and spirit of sustainable development can be achieved and that ultimately the world’s youth can look forward to better future. Until that time, successful integration of children’s perspectives in environmental protection and the realization of a child’s emerging right to a decent environment remain doubtful.” LET EVERY CHILDHOOD LAST A LIFETIME IN A GLOBALISING WORLD.