Calling attention to children ocean defenders

By Elisa Morgera

Early-career researcher Sophie Shields and Hub Director Elisa Morgera (University of Strathclyde, UK), made a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on child and youth human rights defenders, with a view to highlight the role and risks of children environmental human rights defenders at the ocean-climate nexus.

The Hub submission identified the following challenges for children and young people from coastal communities and child and youth ocean defenders:

  • Limited understanding and awareness of the negative impacts on children’s human rights of ocean degradation, which results in a limited range of allies for child ocean defenders;
  • Limited understanding of the interdependence of children’s human right to culture, their right to development and a healthy ocean, as part of broader lack of consideration of culture in ocean-related decision-making;
  • Lack of sufficient references to the inter-dependence of children’s human rights and a healthy ocean in ocean literacy and environmental education, which does not support the exercise of children’s civil and political rights at the ocean-climate nexus;
  • Limited range of allies and resources to engage in less known international fora that are crucial for children’s human right to a healthy environment, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and, after its entry into force, the 2023 “High Seas Treaty” (Agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction);
  • Engaging in international fora that are crucial for children’s human right to a healthy environment that have already raised grave concerns for adult environmental human rights defenders, such as the International Seabed Authority.

Therefore, the Special Rapporteur should clarify that the State obligations under the UN Convention the Rights of the Child are also relevant in the context of biodiversity law and the law of the sea, and in decision-making processes at the ocean-climate nexus at all levels.

Adding a further dimension, the submission shared recent One Ocean Hub research highlights that identify urgent areas of action to protect human right in and related to the ocean that are relevant to safeguard child ocean defenders, including strengthening legislative, accountability, and legal mechanisms to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights and addressing ocean governance gaps to enable the identification, prevention and remediation of environmental and human rights issues in the ocean economy. Businesses operating in the ocean economy must embrace their responsibility to respect human rights according to international law, through articulating clear policies, implementing due diligence procedures, establishing processes to prevent harms, creating grievance mechanisms, and providing access to effective remedies where abuses have occurred.

Furthermore, to consider the ideas of children as expressed by children and child ocean defenders themselves, there must be recognition of children’s right to be heard: children voicing their views in national law- and policy-making processes as well as international discussions on future generations and the environment; being listened to with due consideration; influencing decisions; and accessing justice and mechanisms for remedy and redress.

Illustration: Margherita Brunori