No part of our planet is left untouched or unaffected by the impacts of its 7billion+ residents and by the general apathy of civil society. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, overconsumption and wastage are stretching our finite planetary resources to the limit and threatening our future survival.
My generation is the last one that has the opportunity to take actions to mitigate these challenges before it is too late - yet children and youth continue to be ignored, under-represented and left behind while policy-makers debate and procrastinate about the future of our planet.
I do not accept this situation and through my social innovation enterprise, Green Hope Foundation, I have been working for the last 12 years, to engage and educate fellow young people - focussing on those who are marginalised -refugees, orphans, the homeless- empowering them to demand their rights, in particular to inheriting a sustainable environment.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the inequalities that oppress us. Millions of children, majority of them girls, have been forced to drop out of school. Abuse, domestic violence and trafficking have increased manifold, much of it not even reported.
Now more than ever before, our voices need to be heard and it is with this objective that Green Hope Foundation, in partnership with the Parliament of the World's Religions Next Generation Task Force organized an intergenerational webinar on World Children's Day 2020 that was also the 31st Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the theme "Our Voices Matter".
Moderated by 11-year-old Ananya Orpe and 12-year-old Dyuthi Vasupal, both from Dubai, who are members of the Green Hope Foundation Children's Board and with child panelists from across the world - Kaitlyn from The Bahamas, Faiza from Bangladesh, Alissa from Suriname, Aarush and Lucy from Canada, Whitney from Seychelles and Sanjana from Australia – this webinar demonstrated to a live audience the eloquence, innovation, knowledge, novelty and passion that young minds bring to a discussion.
The webinar also featured keynotes from Ms Shannon O'Shea of UNICEF, Ambassador Anda Filip of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Ms Amanda Kron of UN OHCHR.
Highlighting the severe impact of the pandemic on children, Ms Shannon O'Shea said “Currently, there are 463 million children worldwide with no access to the internet and are at a much higher risk of never going back to school” and stressed the importance of investing in education to empower children. This was echoed by 6 year old Arush from Canada, the youngest speaker at the webinar who, in his call to action, said “We all must have the opportunity to go to school".
The road ahead, as the world comes out of the pandemic pause, is going to be fraught with many challenges. It will require collaboration and cross-disciplinary discussion involving all sections of civil society to ensure that we build back better and create a more resilient world that addresses the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders, most importantly those of children, who are our future.
Webinars such as this, are therefore, critically important since they provide the space for inter-generational dialogue where children speak at the same table as adults. This was reinforced by Ambassador Anda Filip of the Inter-Parliamentary Union who said that to bring about change "It is of paramount importance to bring in more young people into policy making and parliaments around the world.”
The webinar had a live audience of over 300 on zoom and was simultaneously broadcasted on Facebook Live, thereby creating a significant impact on a global audience.
Kehkashan Basu is a UN Human Rights Champion and Founder President of Green Hope.