Children’s opinions powerful enough to make changes, Justice Vui says

Children are well aware of the environmental problems that plague their homes, says Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson. 

As a member of the Committee to the Convention of the Rights of the Child (C.R.C), Justice Vui said the environment and climate change are always on the top of children’s issues when they speak to the committee.

Last month, the committee celebrated the 30th anniversary of the C.R.C, and in a United Nations general assembly resolution, called for more meaningful participation of children at its events.

“Of all the topics children talk to us the most about, it’s the environment and climate change,” Justice Vui said.

“The committee firmly believes that children have the right to be heard and if we are dealing with a convention that involves child rights, it would be nonsensical to be involved in implementing it without talking to children.”

Next week, Justice Vui will accompany teenagers, Aniva Clarke from Tiapapata and Jane Tui from Utuloa, Asau to the first Asia Pacific children’s consultation on their right to a healthy environment.

They have been invited to contribute to a global statement under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (C.R.C) at the Global Initiative on Advancing Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment, a new project launched earlier this year.

“As a committee, we have come to understand that this issue is important to all children of the world and it doesn’t matter where they are from,” Justice Vui said.

“In South America, it could be damage caused to the environment by mining. In the Pacific, it’s climate change, rising sea levels, the big plastic garbage patch.

“That’s why we regard climate change as a very important issue, because it’s an important issue to the children.”

Justice Vui said originally it was he who was invited to the consultation, but he suggested children from Samoa attend as well. He pushed for funding for them and their chaperone, and successfully ensured Miss Clarke and Miss Tui could attend.

The two have been working on garnering opinions from children around them to take to the consultation, in person and through an online survey, and will meet with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi on Friday before they leave for Indonesia.

“They have put in a lot of work and have made this an awareness raising exercise within their own community,” Justice Vui said.

In Asau, Miss Tui got her whole village involved in her consultation, as well as her school, proving how children can be involved in climate change issues, successfully, the judge said. 

“The world does know about what is happening in the Pacific but the world doesn’t hear enough from children in the Pacific,” Justice Vui said.

“It’s very encouraging to see things like Greta [Thunberg] and the petition that has been filed, an initiative that shows an active exercise of the child’s right to be heard, which is great.

“Samoa’s voice must be heard, as the Pacific should be.”

He said the Pacific region is often unintentionally left out of international discussions, and that he wants to avoid that happening to its children’s rights, especially when it comes to the environment they will inherit.

“Who better to talk about things like global warming, climate change, and damage to the environment than the children?

“I don’t think the adults have done a very good job managing this planet and we should apologise to the children of the world for what we are leaving to them.”

The consultations will result in a set of recommendations, combining the outcomes of the Asia Pacific consultation and the other regional meetings.

Justice Vui believes the recommendations will be useful mechanisms to getting governments to meet their obligations not only to the C.R.C, but to the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change action. 

He wants governments to prioritise issues of climate change and healthy environments in their national policies, budgets and even the national psyche.

“Not that you need to do a lot of work on the national psyche in our area,” he added.

“As the Prime Minister of Tuvalu said, if you want to know about climate change in our country you just open the window.”

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