Children's Voices Heard at International Conference in Malaysia
'Save a Tree, Save our Lungs' - Children From Around the World Lend Their Voice for the Protection of Forests
Nairobi/Putrajaya 27 August 2006 — A project to restore native species of trees to their natural habitat in Colombia, a 'sacred forest' that highlights the healing qualities of trees and their role in community rituals in South Africa, a scheme to save damaged trees on a street in South Korea, are among environmental projects presented by children at this year’s United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Tunza International Children’s Conference for the Environment, which opened today in Putrajaya, Malaysia, with the theme ‘Save a Tree, Save our Lungs’.
Two hundred children between the ages of 10 and 14 from more than 67 countries are attending the conference, which is taking place from 26 to 30 August. The children, all members of environmental clubs in their schools or communities, were selected based on the creativity and the inspirational qualities of their environmental projects. They will be presenting their activities, voicing their concerns on the current state of the world’s environment and sharing ideas on what they can do to promote environmental protection, conservation and sustainability.
Much of the conference’s planning and organization was done with the help of a Junior Board of 11 children elected during the Children’s World Summit in Aichi, Japan, in 2005. The Junior Board helped tailor the conference to children’s concerns, making decisions on everything from the conference agenda to workshops and fieldtrips.
“I think that everyone has a voice regardless of their age and it is society that decides whose voice gets to be heard. As children, society assumes that we are young and we don’t understand anything. This conference is important because it is telling us that children do have a voice and that they want to hear it,” said Junior Board Member, 14-year old Hana Shazwin Azizan from Malaysia.
“Until the Children’s Conference in Japan, I knew only about environmental problems of Greece. At this conference I became concerned when I learned about environmental problems in other parts of the world,” said 14-year-old Nikolaos Theofilidis from Greece. “Everyone needs to change their behaviour towards the environment because the earth is our home and by harming it we harm ourselves.”
Among other decisions, the Board wanted to encourage the development of Tunza environmental clubs in their respective countries and a strong children’s network that will allow the children to keep in touch and monitor the fulfilment of participants’ personal environmental pledges. During the conference the children will elect a new Junior Board which will help to organize the next Tunza International Children’s Conference in Stavanger, Norway, in 2008.
The conference was opened by Her Royal Highness Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Fauziah Binti Al-Marhum Tengku Abdul Rashid, Queen of Malaysia.
Eric Falt, Director of UNEP’s Division of Communications and Public Information, also attending the conference, told the children that: “Two out of five species known to science face extinction, including one in eight birds, a quarter of all mammals and one-third of amphibian species. Many of these are forest species, yet forests around the world continue to be destroyed. The international community has pledged to reverse the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but at the moment the rate is still increasing. One way we can help protect biological diversity, and protect society from the threat of climate change, is to preserve our existing forests, and work, where possible, to replant areas that have been deforested.”
As well as highlighting the issues of forests and biodiversity, the conference focuses on a different theme each day, including healthy communities, recycling and conservation. From the day’s presentations, discussions, workshops and field trips, the children will head into action group meetings where they will come up with a set of challenges to world leaders and the United Nations and commitments for themselves related to the theme for the day.
"At this conference, these children from 58 countries will get a chance to address their concerns for environmetnal challenges along with 54 Malaysian children. They will come up with solutions to enviromental challenges in their countries. Malaysian children will get an opportunity to learn how other countries cope with these issues, like the haze that we experience here year after year," said Ms. Khadijah Abdul Rahman, Chairperson of the Malaysia Organizing Committee and head of YAWA.
In addition, the children will have an opportunity to listen to several presentations and attend a variety of workshops facilitated by respected environmentalists with a wealth of knowledge on environmental issues.
The Conference is organized by UNEP and Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam (YAWA). It is sponsored by Bayer, the first private company to engage with UNEP on a comprehensive environmental scheme for young people. Other sponsors include the United Engineering Malaysia (UEM) group, Petronas, HSBC, SIG, Novozymes, Nestlé, Time Engineering, NSTP and BMW. The conference is also supported by Volvo Adventure, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other UN agencies.
“We are very happy to support the Children's Conference as one of the important projects under the UNEP-Bayer Partnership,” said Michael Shade, Senior Vice President of Bayer AG. "Environmental protection has a more than 100-year old tradition at Bayer and is an integral part of our corporate policy. For our planet's future, it is essential to involve the young generation in environmental affairs."
“We are proud to contribute to the success of this conference, as our involvement furthers our dedication to environmental protection that is crucial in development and nation building,” said United Enginerring Malaysia’s Managing Director, Dato Abu Hassan Kendut.
Note to Editors:
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About International Children's Conferences
The Tunza International Children’s Conference on the Environment is part of UNEP's TUNZA programme for children and youth. 'Tunza' means ‘to treat with care and respect’ in Kiswahili. It is part of a wide-ranging programme to involve children and young people in environmental issues.
The International Children's Conference was first held in 1995 in Eastbourne, England, and has been held approximately every two years since then. In July 2004, the Tunza International Children's conference was held in New London, Connecticut, USA.
The Tunza International Children's Conference is the largest United Nations event for children. It provides a unique opportunity for children to discuss and learn about their environmental rights and responsibilities, as well as meet children from other parts of the world and become friends with them. The Conference is for children between the ages of 10 and 14 who come from around the world. Participants are nominated by their schools and community organizations.
The Tunza International Children's Conference provides a unique opportunity for children to present their environmental projects, inspire each other with their environmental work, become active environmental citizens and contribute towards the future of our planet.
The Conference also enables children to question environmental experts and challenge the governments and the peoples of the world to seriously address environmental concerns and issues.
.A message from the Conference was presented to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which was held in Johannesburg , South Africa in August/September 2002. The political declaration of the World Summit refers to the message by the children in its opening paragraphs.
Over the years the Conference has nurtured several active environmental groups recognized for outstanding environmental achievements.
During the Conference, parallel sessions are organized for chaperones to discuss their own contribution to the environment and their role in helping children to be responsible environmental citizens.
The TUNZA Junior Board works with UNEP and the local organizing committee to ensure that the conference reflects the needs of the children.
The Board, elected every two years, consists of six representatives from UNEP regions: North America , Europe , Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, West Asia, and Asia and the Pacific; and four members from the country hosting the Conference.
The 2008 Tunza International Children’s Conference for the Environment will take place in Stavanger, Norway in association with Ung Agenda 21, a well established civil society organization.
More information on the conference and the Tunza programme is available at http://www.unep.org/tunza