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8 May 2006 | Printer friendly

Children as agents of change

“Children first” is an inspirational slogan that has motivated and united people to action across social, economic and political divides. The phrase was coined by the United Nations Children’s Fund in 1990 as a statement of the principle that children must come first in receiving aid.

2006 research of the European Child Safety Alliance shows the call has another meaning: that many policies, actions and laws designed to improve children’s lives also improve the lives of adults.

The paper produced as a result of the research, “That Sensitive Indicator of the World: A Historical Perspective on Children as Agents of Change in the Field of Health and the Environment”, gives numerous examples of the way in which changes for children have paved the way for changes that help the wider community.

For example, children’s sensitivity to pesticides has led to demands in several countries for lower limits for pesticide residues in food. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says infants and children may be especially sensitive to health risks from pesticides because their internal organs are still developing and maturing and because in relation to their body weight, children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides.

In London in the 1650s wells and cellar hatches were ordered to be closed at night because they were “very dangerous to fall in” for children. Many adults also had cause to be grateful for this mesure.

The publication gives other examples and also shares lessons from history that support the needed actions of parents, relatives, caregivers, governments, industry, public health professionals and the media in advancing the health and safety of children.

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