How climate change increases vulnerabilities and risk factors for children and young people in India: on the occasion of International Human Rights Day on 10 December, Terre des hommes, the leading Swiss children's relief organisation, draws attention to its recently published study.
Child labour, sexual violence and child marriage - the frequency and intensity of climate-related extreme events increase the protection risks of children and young people in India. This is the conclusion of a study by Terre des hommes (Tdh), which has identified risks posed by the effects of climate change on children and young people in the Sundarbans region of India. The study highlights the causal impact on migration, health and child protection outcomes.
Climate crisis exacerbates poverty
The Sundarbans region is located in the Bay of Bengal and is considered one of the most vulnerable geographies worldwide to the climate crisis. Environmental changes such as rising sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme weather events are pushing economically poor families into extreme forms of poverty. As a result, children and young people are increasingly exposed to abuse and exploitation, such as child marriage or child trafficking.
"For children, the disruption of normal life due to extreme weather events often leads to trauma and distress. There are almost no support services in place for them to access and process what they have experienced," says Kyra Marwaha, Tdh Head of Delegation for India and Nepal.
The study revealed how children in the Sundarbans are exposed to increased violence by their parents or caregivers as they themselves suffer from stressors triggered by the impacts of climate change. These factors include, for example, worries about their financial situation and housing, as well as the loss of their livelihoods. Many parents migrate to find work, leaving their children behind. In these instances, children often drop out of school to work or to help in the household.
Increasing risk of child marriage
The Sundarbans are known for the high number of cases of trafficking of girls and child marriages. In the last 10 years, a rise in the marriage of underage girls has been observed. Parents often support such marriages because there is a lack of financial resources in the household to meet the basic needs of their children. A girl from Gosaba village reports:
"My parents made the decision to marry me off because they were worried about my safety. I didn't want to get married so early, but there was no one at home to take care of me."
Child marriages pose significant risks to both boys and girls: Boys are forced to support their families and are thrust into employment at a young age. Girls are confronted with teenage pregnancies and restrictions on their education, which put a strain on their future and place them in precarious circumstances.
Children need be involved in finding solutions
There are few opportunities for children in the Sundarbans to talk about disaster-related risks and share their views. Their opinions are rarely considered and their voices go largely unheard.
"It is critical that we invest in children and youth by involving them in solving the climate crisis, empowering them and listening to them," says Kyra Marwaha. "We need to create a safe environment for them to raise their voices to contribute to climate action plans."
The Terre des hommes Foundation (Tdh) is the leading Swiss organisation for children's aid. In 2021, we supported two million children and members of their communities around the world with a focus on mother and child health, migration and access to justice for children. We trained people who in turn supported a further 3.1 million children and members of their communities.
Source picutre: ©Tdh