Six hundred small voices carry big message

Children tell UN CITES delegates to put biodiversity before trade

Feature story - 7 November, 2002
Spectacular animals like whales, elephants and jaguars may become little more than mythical creatures to children of the future. But this is an unhappy ending that children of today took action to prevent. More than six hundred of them marched through Santiago, Chile today to tell decision makers at a UN CITES meeting to save Earth's precious biodiversity for future generations.

Your decisions, their future. Some of the children who walked to tell CITES delegates to save endangered species.

"We believe the world belongs to all living things, not only to those with the money," said the children's statement, read at the front of the Santiago conference centre where CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) delegates are meeting. "We want whales and elephants and mahogany trees to be protected from abuse by human beings." Important decisions to be taken at the CITES meeting now underway will tell whether protection of these species wins out over trade.

First the children paraded down a Santiago main street, accompanied by music from the world's forests and oceans as well as large inflatable endangered animals -- an elephant, whale, jaguar and huemuel, which is a deer from the Chilean Andean region. The children, who were from 10 to 17 years of age, came from France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Chile. They also carried flags which connected to form a 400-metre long banner.

When they arrived at the Diego Portales Convention Centre where CITES delegates from 160 nations are meeting, the children were greeted by Willem Wijnstekers, the CITES secretary general, as well as the CITES chairperson and the head of the Chilean delegation.

Greenpeace activists and volunteers also jointed the march. "We must all do everything we can to ensure that our children's natural heritage is not traded away to extinction," said Gina Sanchez of Greenpeace, speaking from the CITES meeting.

This isn't the first time the world's children have taken their concern about biodiversity to leaders. Last April, hundreds of them from over 17 countries to their fears about the world's rapidly disappearing ancient forests, at the Convention on Biological Diversity held in the Hague, the Netherlands.