By: Josephine Chiname
In Zimbabwe, the discourse centred around environmental justice in the mining sector has developed over the years. Environmental justice has emerged as an important part of the movement calling for responsible investors who respect and promote a clean and healthy environment in host mining communities. This arose from a general understanding that environmental conditions clearly help to determine the extent to which mining host communities enjoy their basic rights to life, health, adequate food and housing, and traditional livelihood and culture. The 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe augmented the environmental justice movement by recognising that those who pollute or destroy the natural environment are not just committing a crime against nature and planet but instead they are violating human rights as well.
despite children being an important stakeholder and the most affected by
negative environmental degradations, especially those in mining host
communities where they are already marginalised, their specific needs and
concerns never really make it into the environmental justice discourse. In
Zimbabwe, it was only after the devastating Cyclone Idai that the issue of
environmental degradation has been discussed in earnest. In order to tip the scales, the Zimbabwe
Environmental Law Association (ZELA) with financial support from Terre des Hommes
is implementing a project themed “Protecting children and youth
environmental rights in Zimbabwe” with the aim of contributing to promoting and
protecting the right to a safe and clean environment for children and youths
living in mining communities. The overall goal of the project is to use
evidence on the impacts of mining activities and existing legal frameworks on
ECR to promote multi-stakeholder safeguarding of children and youths’
environmental rights in the mining sector.
Why Environmental child rights in the mining sector?
Whilst the mining sector has greater potential to
provide an economic turnaround for Zimbabwe, over the years it has resulted in
negative environmental impacts. Environmental degradation resulting from mining
activities affect the whole community. In relation to children, environmental dilapidation
can have irreversible, lifelong and even transgenerational consequences. Children
are particularly vulnerable due to their evolving physical and mental
development and status within society. This is particularly true for children in
mining host communities and in rural Zimbabwe where most are drawn from the marginalised
Children rights should thus
be central in environmental justice in the mining sector because there are
negative environmental factors that may impact children prior to conception and
these impacts can continue into adulthood and intergenerationally. For
instance, a pregnant mother’s exposure to water polluted by mercury commonly
used in Zimbabwe’s gold mining sector can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain, nervous system, cognitive
thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.
There is therefore need to ensure protect and conserve the environment for the
sake of both born and unborn children.
Due to their physical and
mental makeup, negative environmental impacts of mining like air and water
pollution affect children more as compared to adults. The impacts of air
pollution on children’s developing lungs is devastating. According to the World
Health Organisation (WHO), air
pollution is one of the leading causes of child death in the 21st century,
killing more children under five years of age than malaria and HIV/AIDS and so
is water pollution which has dire effects on children. When mining companies
like Marange Resources and Anjin Investments polluted Save and Odzi Rivers with
untreated effluent, raw sewage, metals and chemicals, cases of skin diseases
and diarrhoea were more prevalent in children.
To demonstrate the devastating impacts of both air and water pollution on
children, in 2016 the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Hazardous Substances and Wastes prepared
a report on the impacts of toxins and pollution on child rights.
Further, when it comes to land degradation which is
most prevalent in chrome mining areas, Children are more susceptible than adults as there
are child specific risks associated with their station. Chrome mining mostly
occurs in rural areas of Shurugwi and Zvishavane where the cultural practices
places a duty on children to herd cattle. There are recorded instances where
children lost their lives when they fell into pits whilst herding cattle. Also, land degradation results
in the reduction of farming land, thus impacting on food security and physical
development of children.
From the foregoing, it is
apparent that deliberate efforts must be made by all stakeholders involved in
the mining and environmental sectors to adopt a child rights-based approach to
What does environmental child rights in the mining
Given the vulnerability of children to environmental
harm, duty bearers and stakeholders have a heightened obligation to respect and
promote their right to a clean and safe environment. Zimbabwe is one of the
countries where environmental rights are justiciable and regarded as human
rights. Children are thus able to seek redress through judicial and non-judicial
means upon violation of their environmental rights.
Like any other human right, environmental child
rights have two categories of obligations in the context of environmental
protection. Firstly, it places procedural obligations upon the duty bearers. This
simply means duty bearers must assess environmental impacts; make environmental
information accessible to children; facilitate child participation in
environmental decision-making processes like environmental impact assessment
consultations, including protecting the rights of expression and association;
and providing access to effective remedies in the event of environmental harm.
Secondly, it places substantive obligations upon
duty bearers to protect children against environmental harm. Specifically, duty
bearers have an obligation to adopt a suitable and effective legal, policy and
institutional framework that protects children against environmental harm. This
obligation includes a duty to protect against such harm when it is caused by mining
Conclusion: A call to action for Zimbabwe
As a result of negative environmental impacts of
mining, children in mining host communities suffer violations such as the right
to life, development, health, food, water, education, culture, play and other rights.
There is therefore need for increased
awareness among stakeholders on the relationship between children’s rights and
Government agencies dealing with child protection,
child health, environmental management and mining need to coordinate and work
together on matters of environmental child rights protection in host mining
communities. A child friendly and effective reporting, feedback and monitoring
system needs to be put in place or improved in affected communities.
Moreover, spaces for child participation in
environmental management should be availed. Children have an inherent right to
participate and be heard in matters that affect them. From the foregoing, it is
apparent that environmental harm affects them in a major way thus they deserve
space to participate in environmental management.
It is also important for the Zimbabwean government to
ensure that it mandates mining companies to conduct pre and post establishment of
environmental and human rights due diligence exercises that take into
cognisance children rights. Mining companies should assess the impact of their
operations on environmental child rights, devise mitigation measures and
remedial actions where violations have occurred.
To child rights activists and defenders, we should
never rest until every child enjoys the right to a safe environment.
 Discrimination &
Protection of Minorities, Human Rights and the Environment, 248, U.N.
Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/9 (July 6. 1994) [UN acknowledged the link between the
environment and other rights].
 The dangers of mercury
in artisanal gold mining http://www.zarnet.ac.zw/evol/environ/mercury-and-the-environment/
 See Zimbabwe
Environmental Law Association & Others v Anjin Investments & Others HC
9451/12 and Marange Voices Documentary
 Compendium of human
interest cases on mining impacts in Shurugwi and Zvishavane – Zimbabwe Human
Rights Commission and ZELA (2016).