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Polluted environments kill 1.7 million children each year, UN health agency reports

6 March 2017 – Unhealthy environments are responsible for one-quarter of young child deaths, according to two new reports from the United Nations health agency, which reviewed the threats from pollutants such as second-hand smoke, UV radiation, unsafe water and e-waste.

According to the latest information, polluted environments take the lives of 1.7 million children under the age of five.

“A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO). “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

In one of the two reports, Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children's Health and the Environment , WHO announced that many of the common causes of death among children aged between one month and five years of age are preventable with safe water and clear cooking fuels. These include diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.

The main pollutant is in the air, resulting in 570,000 deaths each year among children under five years old. Air pollution can stunt brain development and reduce lung function and trigger asthma. In the longer-term, exposure to air pollution can increase the child's risk of contracting heart disease, a stroke or cancer.

To counter such exposure, WHO recommends reducing air pollution, improving safe water and sanitation, and protecting pregnant women and building safer environments, among other actions described in Don't pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children's health .

“Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits,” said Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

One of the emerging environmental threats to children is electronic and electrical waste, according to the second WHO report. Appliances such as old mobile phones that are improperly recycled “expose children to toxins which can lead to reduced intelligence, attention deficit, lung damage, and cancer,” the UN agency reported.

At the current rate, the amount of such waste is expected to increase by 19 per cent between 2014 and 2018, up to 50 million metric tonnes.

The reports also point out harmful chemicals that work themselves through the food chain – such as fluoride, lead and mercury, as well as the impact that climate change and UV rays have on children's development.


 info-graphic on pollution


UN Resolution on the protection of children from bullying

UN General Assembly - Resolution on Bullying of Children

Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 2014

[on the report of the Third Committee (A/69/484)] 69/158.

Protecting children from bullying

The General Assembly, Emphasizing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child

[1] constitutes the standard in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child and that States parties to the Convention shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized therein, Recalling all its previous resolutions on the rights of the child and the resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council that are relevant to the protection of children against bullying, Recalling also the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training,

[2] and noting the adoption of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Declaration of Principles on Tolerance,

[3] Taking note of the United Nations report on violence against children of 2006,

[4] the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children entitled “Tackling violence in schools: a global perspective — bridging the gap between standards and practice”, the 2014 thematic report entitled “Releasing children’s potential and minimizing risks: information and communication technologies, the Internet and violence against children” and the 2014 report of the United Nations Children’s Fund on violence against children, entitled “Hidden in plain sight: a statistical analysis of violence against children”, which included references regarding bullying, Recognizing that bullying, including cyberbullying, can be expressed through violence and aggression and that bullying in any form can have a negative impact on the rights of children and their well-being, and aware of the need to prevent and eliminate bullying among children,

Concerned about the occurrence of bullying in different parts of the world and the fact that children who are victimized by their peers may be at heightened risk for a wide range of emotional problems, as well as potential long-term effects on the individual’s ability to realize his or her own potential, Acknowledging that in some countries, relevant United Nations agencies and mechanisms have been providing, upon request, technical cooperation and support to enhance national capacities to address and prevent bullying,  


Recognizing that the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children, in the best interests of the child, and that children, for the full and harmonious development of their personality, should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

Recognizing also that environments surrounding children can affect their behaviour, and recognizing further the important role that family members, legal guardians, caregivers, teachers and civil society have and that the media should have in the prevention of bullying,

Recognizing further the importance of generating appropriate statistical information on bullying, Noting the risks associated with the misuse of new information and communication technologies and applications, including increased vulnerability to bullying, while stressing that these can create new ways to enhance education and, inter alia, learn and teach about the rights of the child, and can be useful tools to promote children’s protection,

Recognizing that children in vulnerable situations can be at greater risk of being bullied and that children may face different forms of bullying,

1. Recognizes that bullying, including cyberbullying, can have a potential long-term impact on the enjoyment of the human rights of children and negative effects on children affected by or involved in bullying;

2. Also recognizes that bullying can be associated with, inter alia, discrimination and stereotypes, and that action must be taken to prevent bullying on any basis;

3. Encourages Member States: (a) To take all appropriate measures to prevent and protect children, including in school, from any form of violence, including forms of bullying, by promptly responding to such acts, and to provide appropriate support to children affected by and involved in bullying; (b) To continue to promote and invest in education, including as a long-term and lifelong process by which everyone learns tolerance and respect for the dignity of others and the means and methods of ensuring such respect in all societies; (c) To generate statistical information and data disaggregated by sex, age and other relevant variables at the national level, and to provide information on disability, with regard to the problem of bullying, as a basis on which to elaborate effective public policies; (d) To raise public awareness, involving family members, legal guardians, caregivers, youth, schools, communities, community leaders and the media as well as civil society organizations, with the participation of children, regarding the protection of children from bullying; (e) To share national experiences and best practices for preventing and tackling bullying, including cyberbullying;

4. Requests the Secretary-General, using information provided by Member States and relevant stakeholders, in collaboration with relevant United Nations entities, to submit a report to the General Assembly at its seventy-first session on protecting children from bullying, with an emphasis on causes and effects, good practices and guidance to prevent and respond to bullying.

73rd plenary meeting 18 December 2014


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