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Children Speak Out at the Johannesburg Summit - 2002-09-02

Delegates from the Children's Conference on the Environment told global leaders at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, south Africa, that they must stop talking and take action to ensure a healthy and safe environment. The children's plea came on the heels of the latest report saying that environmental hazards cause the death of thousands of children each day.

The children of the world were blunt and uncompromising in their message to the leaders at the earth summit: they should stop bickering and stop putting wealth ahead of the needs of the children.

Justin Friesen, an 11-year-old from Canada, said it is children who experience the brunt of environmental degradation.

"This is because children are close to the ground and to the environment and suffer more from problems in the world," he said. "Children of the world are disappointed because too many adults are too interested in money and wealth to take notice of serious problems that affect our future."

In addition to Justin, the children's delegation includes 14-year-old Analiz Vergara from Ecuador, Liao Mingyu, 11, from China and Julius Ndlovena, 10, from South Africa. The youngest delegate at the summit is six-year-old Tiyiselani Manganyi, also from South Africa.

Julius and Tiyiselani recited a short poem on behalf of South African children. Julius asked if world leaders are conspiring to destroy the essence of the environment and warned that children will no longer suffer in silence. Tiyiselane told the leaders that children expect a great deal from them.

"We are the children of South Africa," she said. "We are entitled to enjoy the expectations for the future for every single boy and girl. Thank you."

Earlier the Director General of the World Health Organization told reporters children consume more water and food in proportion to their bodyweight, they are much more vulnerable to the impact of pollutants and toxins.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland said the number of children dying as a result of environmental factors is skyrocketing.

"It is not widely known that the environment kills the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of children every 45 minutes," he said. "In the year 2000, more than 4.7 million children under the age of five, equivalent to roughly the entire population of my country, Norway, died from illnesses linked to unhealthy environments."

And the children made it plain to the world leaders in Johannesburg that they fully understand the implications for them and for future generations of environmental degradation.

The Ecuadorian delegate, Analiz Vergara, told them they should sign and ratify the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon gasses in the environment and should spend money on poor children rather than on expensive conferences. She asked why people and countries who degrade the environment are not punished.

"Remember we cannot buy another planet and our lives and those of future generations depend on this," she said. "We know that when people commit crimes, they are sent to jail. Why is it so difficult to punish countries and people who damage the environment and harm us."

The children told world leaders not to leave the summit and forget their promises. "We challenge you, the leaders of the world," they said, "to accomplish what you have said you will."