Environment

Meet the Arvada 11-Year-Old Selected as a UN Child Advisor

Madhvi Chittoor is representing North and Central America at the UN.
Madhvi Chittoor is representing North and Central America at the UN. Madhvi4EcoEthics
During last weekend's 90-degree days, most eleven-year-olds were playing outside, splashing in the pool and munching on popsicles. But Madhvi Chittoor spent last Saturday hosting a climate-rights seminar and international forum over Zoom, with Colorado Representative Brianna Titone as the guest of honor.

Madhvi is a United Nations child advisor for General Comment 26, an official interpretation of the rights of children relating to the environment and climate change. She applied for the team after scientists who were impressed with her campaign on global plastic policy encouraged her to apply; she was notified in February that she'd been chosen from a pool of 300 applicants. The youngest advisor, she's also the only one from the United States.

"It’s a big surprise, and I am taking on very big responsibilities to represent the whole North and Central American regions," she says.

Madhvi's passion for environmentalism was sparked by a CNN documentary called Plastic Island that she saw when she was five. "I got inspired from that that I need to do something," she recalls. In 2016, she wrote her first book, Is my plastic food?, and in 2017 she started her own nonprofit, Madhvi4EcoEthics, to focus on plastics and other pollutants. During the last legislative session, she testified in support of HB21-1162, which will prohibit food and retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags to customers starting in 2024 (independent Colorado stores that have fewer than four locations are exempt). She also supported HB22-1345, designed to increase protections from "forever chemicals" such as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl; it became law on June 3.

"Madhvi met with me last summer and asked me to consider this legislation. She has been a real champion for environmental issues, and advocated for the PFAS bill through social media, lobbying and testifying," says state Representative Lisa Cutter.

Growing up in Arvada, Madhvi recognized the ramifications of climate change in this state. "I’ve been seeing many, many different changes from when I was six or five to now I am eleven," she says. "Forest fires — we’ve been getting a lot of wildfire warnings. Housing —  every empty space is turning into housing communities. Water shortage — many droughts are going on here."

She decided to host her June 18 seminar in order to get perspectives from other children, advertising the event on Twitter and her website. Over 100 kids registered, according to her mother, Lalitha Chittoor.

She took their feedback with her on June 22, when the thirteen child advisors met with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to get started on the first steps of creating General Comment 26 for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This general comment on the UNCRC will focus on how children are impacted by certain issues related to the environment and climate change, and discuss what countries need to do to uphold these rights. Previous general comments on the treaty have focused on such issues as children's rights in the justice system, the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence, and the rights of children with disabilities.

Metro Denver has a knack for encouraging smart kids: The Time 2020 Child of the Year and the magazine's first-ever kid of the year, Gitanjali Rao, lives in Lone Tree. She was honored at the age of fifteen, after she'd heard about the crisis in Flint and invented a device to help detect contaminated water.

While Madhvi is also off to a fast start as an activist, she has interests beyond the environment. For starters, she holds the Guinness World Record for being the youngest professional music producer: She released her album, I am...Princess Genius, in 2019.

But she will continue her environmental work this summer, meeting with Michael S. Regan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, in July to discuss water shortages and problems with drinking water.

UNCRC General Comment 26 will officially launch in 2023...when Madhvi is twelve.
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Katrina Leibee, a recent graduate of Colorado State University, is an editorial fellow at Westword, covering politics, business and culture.
Contact: Katrina Leibee