Like many others, I am acutely aware of how much physical and sexual abuse an Indian child is likely to face. I also believe that the brutal exposure to chemicals Indian children face is amongst the worst forms of environmental violence they experience.
There are two reasons why. First, India’s chemical production and use is among the fastest growing globally. Second, India does effectively control toxic emissions or incentivise safe products. Children are extremely vulnerable to toxics. Even small exposures can produce big health problems.
The new UNEP Global Chemicals Outlook reveals that while the OECD’s share of chemical production decreased from 77% to 63%, the BRIICS’ share shot up from 13% to 28%. Infact, by 2020, 33% of all chemical consumption and 31% of all production will take place in the developing world. Plus, new chemicals, untested for their human impact, are introduced every year.
India had better let out a war cry. Existing laws are inadequate. Producers must be held accountable for what they make, till it is safely disposed. The most toxic chemicals — mercury, lead, dioxins etc. must be phased out. India must identify key products that are toxic during their use, such as specific plastics, and find financial tools to remove them from widespread usage.
And data from across the world should be invoked to determine if a chemical is acceptable at all. Children living in India have to be saved from the kind of environmental catastrophe callous China has bequeathed on its next generation.