Technology & Science

UN protocol used by youths in climate complaint not available to Canadian kids

A children's rights advocate is urging Canada to adopt a United Nations protocol that 16 youths, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are using to push for climate action.

Complaint filed with UN this month by Greta Thunberg and 15 peers representing 12 countries

Greta Thunberg, left, is joined by other child petitioners to announce a complaint they will file before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to protest lack of government action on the climate crisis, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019 in New York. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

A children's rights advocate is urging Canada to adopt a United Nations protocol that 16 youths, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are using to push for climate action.

Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada, led the years-long global push for a UN code for children — and their adult representatives — to file complaints if their rights have been violated.

The UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child for a Communications Procedure in 2011 and it came into force in 2014.

"It really is remarkable to me now to see young people like Greta and 15 of her peers now using this law to file a complaint against five governments and to seek justice for the failure of their government to protect their safe and healthy childhood," Austin, who is based in Calgary, said in an interview.

The complaint this month from the child petitioners — who are between eight and 17-years old and represent 12 countries — is directed at five of the 45 countries that have ratified the protocol: Argentina, France, Germany, Brazil and Turkey. It alleges those countries violate children's rights by failing to address the climate crisis.

"This law is not yet available for kids here in Canada to file a complaint because our government hasn't ratified it, but we hope to see that change," Austin said.

"As a Canadian who was leading these global efforts, I was dismayed and deeply frustrated that my own government was opposed to the law and to this day has not yet ratified it."

Austin said her efforts were motivated by children's rights violations she witnessed through her work in Asia, Africa and Latin America. She recalled spending three years in Thailand, where she encountered kids who were victims of child labour and trafficking. Many were not getting adequate health care for AIDS and other diseases.

"It was kids like that who motivated me to really find ways to give them a voice and seek timely justice when their rights were being denied."

Greta, 16, has inspired climate strikes in more than 150 countries, including several planned Friday across Canada.