The protection of children from environmental health threats is based on international agreements designed to ensure that children grow up and live in an environment that is conducive to the highest attainable level of health.
Agenda 21 recommends promoting primary environmental care activities that address the basic needs of communities, improve the environment for children at the household and community level and encourage the participation and empowerment of local populations, including women, youth, children and indigenous people, towards the objective of integrated community management of resources, especially in developing countries.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
In 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child laid down basic standards for the protection of children and proclaimed that they are entitled to special care and assistance. A year later, the World Summit for Children (WSC) adopted a Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children, in which the signatories agreed to work together on taking common measures to protect the environment, so that all children can enjoy a safer and healthier future.
In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development ("the Earth Summit") built on the achievements by adopting the latter's health goals as the health goals for Agenda 21. The protection of children from the effects of a deteriorating environment was given prominence in several chapters of Agenda 21. Chapter 6, "Protecting and promoting human health", emphasizes the need to pay special attention to protecting and educating vulnerable groups, particularly infants, young people, women, indigenous people and the poor. Agenda 21 urges governments to develop programmes to protect children from the effects of environmental and occupational toxic compounds.
The Declaration of the Environmental Leaders of the Eight on Children's Environmental Health (1999) intensified their commitment to protecting children's health from environmental hazards. The environment ministers of the G8 countries acknowledged the special vulnerabilities of children and committed their countries to taking action on several specific environmental health issues such as lead, microbiologically safe drinking-water, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and air quality. They called on financial institutions, WHO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international bodies to continue ongoing activities and to pay further attention to children's environmental health, in particular the economic and social dimensions of children's health. In addition, they committed their countries to fulfilling and to promoting the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Declaration on Risk Reduction for Lead.