Children can help us build a better, greener world for all

Children are bearing the brunt of the world’s ills. Let’s ensure their voices are heard.

Ghanaian Nakeeyat Dramani Sam, winner of the Talented Children Program
Ghanaian climate activist Nakeeyat Dramani Sam, winner of the Talented Children programme, demanded payment of funds allocated for climate change at the UN climate summit COP27 held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on November 18, 2022 [File: Mohamed Abdel Hamid/Anadolu Agency]

About a year ago, 12-year-old Asaad was enjoying being able to go to school and play with friends again in Sudan, following months of uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he did not have long before the next crisis hit. Heavy rains and extreme flooding washed away his home and inundated his neighbourhood, forcing his family and many others to flee.

Asaad, now 13, is among at least 10 million children in the world who have been displaced as a result of climate change. He and his family ended up in Egypt, and I had the honour of meeting him along with other inspirational children who Save the Children supported to attend COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh last month. His story shows firsthand how the climate crisis is a child rights crisis, and he spoke so impressively about the need for leaders to factor children’s rights into their decision-making – something that was agreed upon at this year’s COP for the first time in history.

Like many of the children I meet, Asaad’s experience, his courage and his determination to push for a change reminded me of why I began campaigning for the rights of socially excluded children as a young person. The daughter of a Swedish mother and an Asian father, I was raised in a largely migrant area of Sweden where our rights and demands were often dismissed offhand. Asaad reminded me of why we at Save the Children do the work we do.

The year 2023 marks the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon in New York seven years ago. This moment seems a good one to reflect on where we are.

Children are still bearing the brunt of the world’s ills, which they have done nothing to contribute to. The world took one step out of the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout that saw an unprecedented economic downturn and reversal of historic gains in healthcare and education, only to hurtle into the worst global cost of living crisis in a generation.

Children should have emerged from the stress of the pandemic to a safety net that would help them survive, learn and be protected. Instead, they tell us they are unable to go to school, play with their friends, or eat enough to keep them going. In a ground-breaking survey of more than 54,000 children we carried out earlier this year, 83 percent of children in 15 countries said they see the climate crisis or inequality, or both, affecting their surroundings, while 73 percent of children believe adults should be doing more to address these issues. Data collected for the same report shows that one-third of the world’s children – an estimated 774 million – are living with the dual effects of poverty and high climate risk.

Meanwhile, the number of children living in countries with the deadliest conflicts increased by 10 percent this year, according to another Save the Children report.

The UN’s Global Humanitarian Overview for 2023 finds that one in every 23 people will need humanitarian assistance to survive next year. This is a staggering 24 percent increase from a year ago, and we know that it is children who are the most affected by humanitarian crises.

Children already affected by poverty and discrimination are the most vulnerable. They and their families have the least power to demand change, particularly compared with powerful companies and countries that may be benefitting from the status quo. Likewise, this inequality and discrimination erode their resilience to shocks.

We need to see urgent humanitarian, development and climate financing, and critical reforms to the international financing system to make it work better for lower-income countries.

We owe it to children like Asaad to fight harder. When I was growing up, teachers would say that my views did not matter and that I would only end up unemployed and on social benefits. But all this only lit a fire in me to stand up for myself and other children – and I have carried that to this day.

Children can and do make a difference. Children must have their views and recommendations heard, from the streets to the corridors of power. The outcome of COP27 shows that this can be influential. Let us put children and their rights at the centre of creating a greener and more just planet and support them to be part of the change the world so desperately needs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.