A ChildFund survey, released today, of more than 6,200 children across the world, reveals that children globally are deeply concerned about pollution and the risk of natural disasters. One-third of children cite pollution as the environmental problem they worry most about, while one-fifth are most concerned about natural disasters, such as drought, earthquakes and floods.
For Australian children, pollution was also the biggest environmental issue (33 per cent*), followed by natural disasters (19 per cent) and climate change (15 per cent). Australian children say they want to see action to improve their own communities by putting a stop to littering (31 per cent) and planting more trees (18 per cent).
These findings come from the third annual Small Voices, Big Dreams global children’s survey, commissioned by the ChildFund Alliance and compiled by GfK Roper. This unique poll of 6,200 children aged 10 to 12 years in 47 countries – from Australia to Nicaragua to Zambia – not only provides a global snapshot of children’s views but sheds light on the commonalities and differences between the developed and developing world.
This year, children were surveyed about their hopes, dreams and fears, as well as their thoughts on the environment. The report is a timely reminder for world leaders to consider the views of future generations, as the next round of UN climate talks begins in Doha at the end of this month.
Secretary-General of the ChildFund Alliance, Jim Emerson, commented: “We should be putting children at the heart of the climate change debate. This young generation will inherit the world we leave them so it makes sense that we listen to their concerns about the environment.
“Globally, 34 per cent of children surveyed cited pollution as their number one environmental worry – a borderless problem which affects both the developed and developing world in different ways. Regionally, we find other interesting trends. In the Americas, the number of children concerned about pollution rises to over 50 per cent; however, in Africa and Asia, where close to half the children have experienced drought, natural disasters are the biggest environmental worry for over a quarter of children.”
ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence said: “Children in Australia share the concern of children around the world about pollution and natural disasters. They want a clean environment free of litter with more parks and trees. Despite political division on the issue, Australian children also show a significant level of concern about climate change with 15 per cent of those surveyed citing this as a major concern, much higher than their peers in developing countries where only 2 per cent of children mentioned this as a priority.”
The report also sheds light on how recent major events motivate children’s fears. Mr Emerson commented: “When asked the question, ÌÓWhat are you most afraid of?’ children in Japan chose natural disasters (26 per cent), reflecting their experience of last year’s earthquake and tsunami. The figure was similarly high for children in Guatemala (24 per cent), which is prone to recurrent disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and landslides, and in the Philippines (23 per cent), which is battered by an average of 20 typhoons each year.”
While children in a world of two halves are united in their environmental concerns, a stark contrast was evident when looking at the future career aspirations of those in the developed versus developing world.
Mr Emerson noted that in developed countries, children most value careers as a professional athlete, entertainer or creative professional, while in the developing world they mainly aspire to be doctors, nurses or teachers.
“Children in the developed world have likely been inspired by the 2012 Olympics, with one in five wanting to become professional athletes, and by celebrity culture, with one in 10 aspiring to be entertainers,” he said. “In complete contrast, children in developing countries dream of careers which will ensure the basic needs of their community are met in the future, with one in four citing doctor, nurse, dentist or healthcare professional, and another one in four choosing to be a teacher.”
ChildFund’s annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey is a strong channel for children, globally, to be given the opportunity to have their say on important issues and, in particular, gives a voice to some of the world’s most vulnerable and overlooked children.
Mr Emerson said: “ChildFund is committed to learning from children in the communities where we work. Listening to children contributes to our understanding of how they view and experience the world, and helps guide our priorities and programs. For instance, in this year’s survey, we see that education is top of mind for children in developing countries – a consistent and crucial finding.
“We are reminded that children can think beyond themselves and consider how their world can be improved. We’ve also gained insight into their hopes, dreams and fears so that we can help them reach their full potential.”
*All references to pollution combine ‘pollution (general)’ and ‘water pollution’ statistics from the data tables in the report.