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Ecological Child’s Rights: Revisiting the aspect of “safe environment” in the Child’s Rights Convention


[Prepared for ASEAN People’s Forum 2017. Convergence Space on Life with Dignity. Sub-theme “Promoting a Culture of Solidarity and Resistance: Transformative Human Capacity Development”]

Written  by: Mardha Tillah and Wahyubinatara Fernandez

(Stop land grabbing for children's weellbeing)
(Stop land grabbing for children’s wellbeing)

So-called-development agenda throughout Southeast Asia has grabbed communities’ land which then impacting children and young people’s lives, especially the ones living in rural areas. In the name of economic growth, land grabbing for various economic development projects have violated children and young people’s rights to reach the full and harmonious development of his or her personality due to the insecurity of his/her family’s livelihoods because of land dispossession and dispossession of access to land (LD-DAL).

Southeast Asia has established the platform as one economic community called ASEAN Economic Community since the end of 2015. The official investment promotion website of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stated that:

“The AEC is the realisation of the region’s end goal of economic integration. It envisions ASEAN as a single market and production base, a highly competitive region, with equitable economic development, and fully integrated into the global economy[1]

A plausible explanation for the state of Southeast Asia region as the World’s number one for land dispute, 88% whilst global average percentage is 61%, as written in Nikkei Asian Review[2], citing a research recently published by UK-based consultancy TMP Systems and the Rights and Resources Institute. Road construction to connect every spot therefore facilitating goods transportation–even from and to the most remote ones, dam building in the name of fulfilling energy demands for industry, cement exploitation despite the existing function of the land as paddy fields—again to fulfill industrial demands, are only three out of dozens economic projects that have evicted people from their lands, or at least that have limited people’s access to their lands.

Whilst scholars and activists have argued that land-grabbing has caused and will continue to cause serious environmental and social problems in the long run, there has been a very small number of discussions on the latter by linking it to rural children and rural youth wellbeing. This issue of land-grabbing has been overlooked and has not been acknowledged by parties as a process that has a huge impact in a long run due to disruptions it causes in rural children and rural young people’s lives as well as in rural communities’ future. Whilst tones of literature and discussions can be found on the impact of neo-liberalization political economic conduct to depeasantisation phenomena, and on the other hand, since the 1970s growing number of literature discussing the women’s rights violation and its link with natural resource governance including the discourse of land-grabbing, however, literature that explained about the impact of land dispossession and dispossession of access to land (LD-DAL) to rural children and rural young people, is very limited.

On the other hand, not only that these rural children and rural young people’s situations due to LD-DAL has been given very little attention from parties, their potentials have also been wasted—the potentials despite the livelihood uncertainties they are facing in the midst of landlessness. The wasted potentials are not disadvantages only for these young people, but also for their local community which also links with the nation’s prosperity in the long run.

This concept note is proposing the urgency to include LD-DAL as part of the component considered as the right to a healthy environment in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. To arrive at this thesis, first, this brief will elaborate the impossibility of achieving the ideal environmental situation where a child should live in, as written in the Child’s Rights Convention (CRC), given the situation where the community is losing their land or losing their access to it. Secondly, this brief will explain various situations why LD-DAL is important and has links to other environmental problems that explicitly mentioned in the CRC. The last part of the brief is a proposal to push forward the embodiment of the Right of a Child to a Healthy Environment.

One should bear in mind that this submission is prepared by highlighting the situation of rural young generations—one of the marginalized groups in various spaces: discourses and debates, empowerment, as well as the decision-making process.

Are we toward there?

Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community

(Preamble of the Child Rights Convention)

Those sentences aforementioned above is a situation that is impossible to be achieved in the midst of land-grabbing happening throughout Southeast Asia due to the neoliberal regime where everything is privatized and commoditized for the sake of economic growth. Whilst everyone has acknowledged and are very much keen on the jargon of “ensuring the future generations’ rights over natural resources” when we talk about definition of the term “Sustainable”, we are lacking in acknowledging that current insecurity of livelihoods due to land dispossession and dispossession of access to land (LD-DAL) has already impacted the quality of life that current young people are experiencing. The uncertainty of their livelihoods due to LD-DAL has caused them having a disconnection with their local natural richness because nothing in the system and almost none in their supporting system are encouraging them to do otherwise[3]. It is predicted that these current children and young people who are having low level of education because their parents become landless and thus become farming labors with much lower income compared to when they still had their land, will be expelled to urban areas working in various informal jobs or in factories are the most common situations that we will see in the future. Another thing to be considered is, then, who will own the countryside?[4]—this question will link to the reinforcement of rural youth unemployment and therefore the issue of their dignity.

Although some efforts have been made in international level to highlight the articulation of the Right of a Child to a Healthy Environment, there is no submission to include LD-DAL’s that implies their rights fulfillment[5]. It is hard to imagine the future of our nations with people growing up in uncertainty and with far-from-optimum opportunity to arrive at their maximum capacities. It is almost impossible to even hope that our forests, our land, our coasts, will continue to be managed sustainably the way they have been managed wisely for hundreds of year by local and indigenous communities when the youth nowadays have no opportunities to master it so that they will be able to do it by themselves in 10-20 years from now.

Rethinking Our Future in Southeast Asia: Considering landlessness as a threat to children and youth’s dignity

The CRC has incorporated physical environment aspect as well as social environment that is familiar to him/her, to fulfill children’s rights to grow. However, in rural areas, this situation is very much linked to their control over land. It has been acknowledged that “extreme economic and social inequality is further exacerbated by land insecurity, which in turn affects political stability and security. A number of farmers’ demonstrations in Southeast Asia are deep-rooted in land insecurity”[6]—however, to link it with rural children and rural youth situations are very rare.

Landlessness has not yet been considered and acknowledged as a factor that hinders the family environment to be experienced by young generations, as well as less pollution, or environmental degradation, that is to see it in a bigger perspective. The security for young people to have clean water is threatened once a village is surrounded by big palm oil plantation, a situation that can be found in Orang Rimba community in Jambi, Sumatera, for instance. At the national level in Indonesia is how the explosion of palm oil business contaminates local water sources with chemical fertilizers and pesticides[7].Not only that, many of these concessions grabbed decades-old community-managed forest areas; due to the legislation and its implementation that does not take sides with community-based forest management[8]. These so-called development has been forcing young people to migrate to other places, often to big cities and working in low-level of professions with little income, not because they opt to, but because they have no other choices; farming is impossible not only because there is not so much supports and protection from the government, but also because there is simply no land to be tilled. The access to a safe playground is limited when a mining corporation starts their operations in one site, putting children’s lives at risks due to dangerous pits where the mine is exploited, like the one happened in Kalimantan, Indonesia, when two little boys were drawn to death in these mining pits in 2016[9].

Starting from environmental degradation, climate change, to the grabbing of the land as living space itself, we are facing threats to our living space today. Various efforts need to be done in order to guarantee the Ecological Child Rights that increasingly eroded by the neoliberal agenda which in most case, benefits only a small part of the earth’s inhabitants while continuing to pose a serious threat to the environment and the marginalized ones, including rural children and young people. This seems to be a common problem faced by the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere, including the Southeast Asian nations, Indonesia is one of them.

Children and youth are a social group that will inherit our living space in the future. All adult’s ecological decisions and actions of today will greatly affect the lives and existence of this social group and their descendants in the future – human beings. This is why the right of a child to a healthy environment is so important that it has been explicitly noted in international conference documents since the Stockholm Conference (1972)[10].

Having said that, in Indonesia, despite 16 laws and regulations[11]released by the Government following the ratification of CRC in the country (among others: Ministerial Decree (MoMT) No. 235/2003 on Types of Work that are hazardous to the Health, Safety, or Morals of Children, Presidential Decree No. 87/2002 on the National Action Plan for the Elimination of the Sexual Exploitation of Children, Law No. 11/2008 on Electronic Information and Transaction that includes up and downloading of child pornographic materials) there is no single regulation/decree/law that has been released in regards to child’s rights to a healthy environment, moreover to link it with the LD-DAL.

In the midst of liberal economic conduct to be accomplished through the AEC, national regulations on child’s rights to a healthy environment have never been this crucial. To use the perspective of CRC whilst carrying out mega economic projects, one can see that damages to our future are on its way, parallel with the infrastructure building, connectivity improvement and so on and so forth. Whilst the infrastructure facilities are improving, our future leaders (i.e. current (rural) young people) are not well-trained or well-educated, which will let them only working as informal workers with less or only minimum wage and at the same time risking their environmental knowledge to diminish.

In relations to that, we urge that young generation should be included in the decision-making process of environmental governance starting from the local level.

Inclusive Environmental Governance to Younger Generations

Addressing these issues to ensure the Ecological Child Rights, it not an easy task to perform. It requires the synergistic involvement of various parties, including the youth themselves. For youth to begin to face this challenge, it takes an initial effort to bridge the gap between their practical life and the environment they live in. In many cases in Sumatra, Borneo, and Java LD-DAL issue has kept the youth groups from involvement in agriculture and other land-related professions. This is what then transformed into a knowledge gap about the threats to their own lives and futures[12]. Environmental education functions as the main tool for empowerment. It reintroduces them to their surroundings, to the richness of its biodiversity, to the local history, and to the meaning of certain cultural practices that are relevant to natural resource management, including the problems they are facing now. It also equips young people with the skills for becoming local facilitators, enabling them to share with visitors their knowledge of the issues faced by their community, and their broader implications.

Not only for marginalized youth groups, environmental knowledge is also important for youth groups in urban areas. This group, which has been surrounded by and accepting modernity without much of asking, is an important asset in advocating the Ecological Child Rights. Their access and consumption modes, especially relating the new media, is a political potential that can not be underestimated. As a secondary target of advocacy, this group is strategic in increasing political pressure on policymaker institutions. Thus, knowledge is essential in promoting the culture of solidarity and resistance amongst marginalized youth groups amidst the environmental changes directly or indirectly affecting their ways of life and threaten their existence. Knowledge is the key to a life of dignity.


[1]Invest in ASEAN u.d. accessed on 18 October 2017

[2]Roughneen, Simon. 2017. Southeast Asia is world’s hotspot for land disputes: report. accessed on 18 of October 2017

[3]Tillah, Mardha. 2014. Struggle Over Land, Struggle Over Youth: an Assessmeng of the On-going Transformation Caused by Economic Development Plan of Indonesia (MP3EI) in Two Villages of Bogor Districts, Indonesia. The University of Edinburgh (unpublished)

[4]White, Benjamin. 2011. Who Will Own the Countryside?: Dispossession, rural youth and the future of farming. International Institute of Social Studies: the Hague.

[5]See Center for International Environmental Law. 2016. the Right to a Healthy Environment in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Written Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

[6]Professor Apiwat Ratanawaraha of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, who specializes in land issues as cited in an article written by John Cherry in an article titled The Great Southeast Asian Land Grab published in the Diplomat on 13 of August 2013 accessed on 20 October 2017

[7]Besides polluting water sources, huge carbon stocks escape when peatlands burned in the process of setting up oil palm plantations. Indonesia is the third largest contributor to climate change after America and China (through peatland carbon release). Source:

[8]Lynch, O.J, Talbott, K. 1995. Balancing Acts: Community-based Forest Management and National Law in Asia and the Pacific. Pp.xvi+188pp. Center for International Development, World Resources Institutes: Washington, DC.

[9]Yovanda.2016. DuaPelajarIniMeninggal di Lubang Area Konsesi Tambang, Jelang Hari Pahlawan.Mongabay Indonesia.


[11]Irwanto. 2014. Indonesia and UNCRC: 25 Years of Progress and Challenges”

[12]Tillah, M., Rahman, F. 2017.Fighting for Existence. Inside Indonesia

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