ZELA Press Statement: Commemorating Youth Day

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) joins the world in commemorating the International Youth Day. The theme for this year’s International Youth Day is, “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.” This theme shines a light on why global efforts must ensure meaningful participation of young people. This resonates with the 2030 Decade of Action which calls for accelerating sustainable solutions to all the world’s biggest challenges, with young people and other stakeholders acting as key drivers in generating an unstoppable movement pushing for the required transformations.

The 2021 Youth Day comes at a time when the impact of COVID-19 is being felt far and wide with many young people desperately hoping for a fast reawakening of the economy. The COVID-19 induced lockdowns have resulted in schools, colleges, and universities shutting their doors and online lessons becoming the new normal. Virtual learning despite its immense benefits has exposed deep-seated inequalities between the haves and have nots making it impossible for poor and/or remote communities to access education. The impact of COVID-19 on public health remains a huge challenge that the world will grapple with for a long time. While climate change shocks have devastated ecosystems, the COVID-19 pandemic has further disrupted markets and supply chains for small-scale farmers in Zimbabwe and around the world exacerbating food system challenges. The solutions to these intensifying challenges can only achieve effective transformation if no one is left behind, especially the youth. It is only by building back together that we can build back better. As alluded to by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres: We all need to guarantee young people a seat at the table as we build a world based on inclusive, fair, and sustainable development for all.

Young people must be involved in policy formulation and implementation so that they contribute to identifying innovative solutions in a quest to transform food systems, while responding to human and planetary health. To help address the exclusion of children and youth in decision making processes in environmental and natural resource governance, ZELA has employed the child and youth-based approach in all its programmes. This approach was adopted after the realization that changes brought about by exploitation of natural resources and the changing environment are having a disproportionate, and often negative impact on children and young people. Failure to involve this population segment and paying special attention to their opinions will affect them now and in the future.

As we commemorate the 2021 Youth Day, we cannot ignore the threat on the safety and wellbeing of children and young people occasioned by the environments we create and call on the government to undertake to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation. We condemn in strongest terms child marriages and child exploitation. Children and the youth have a right to be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. Child marriage threatens young women and girls’ lives and health, and it limits their prospects. The Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes the internationally agreed definition of a child, the right of children to health, education, protection from violence, and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, all of which are violated by child marriage.

Furthermore, Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides the overarching framework for environmental rights and intergenerational equity in utilization of natural resources. These Constitutional provisions place a mandate on the government to put in place measures that can result in the full realisation of the rights. Therefore, we call upon the government to:

  • Ensure that natural resources governance legislation is crafted in consultation with young people and all relevant stakeholders. It is only by hearing from the youth that equitable benefit sharing mechanisms and promotion of indigenous knowledge systems could be developed and preserved in accordance with the intergenerational principle.
  • In a quest to transform food systems, the Government should allocate a significant proportion of its budget for agriculture sector development, especially smallholder farmers in line with the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food security. Substantial proportion of the agriculture budget should be allocated to key drivers of agricultural and productivity growth with a substantive amount going towards young people’s projects to ensure their effective participation.
  • Adoption of appropriate Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices is of paramount importance as this will sustainably increase agricultural productivity and household income, build community resilience and adaptation to climate change, reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and enhance local and national food security.
  • We call on the government to ensure it leverages mineral revenue for socio-economic development and agriculture sector development for the progressive realisation of citizens’ rights and for environmental sustainability.
  • All stakeholders must contribute to the promotion and protection of the right to a safe and clean environment for children and youths including establishing partnerships with them for the effective protection, promotion, and fulfilment of their rights.
  • Children and young people are among the most impacted by the climate catastrophe, every year 1.7 million children die before their fifth birthday from drinking contaminated water or breathing polluted air. As we celebrate the 2021 Youth Day we call on the government of Zimbabwe to commit to putting children and young people at the centre of climate policy, decision making and action including signing the Intergovernmental Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action.

Source: Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

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