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Climate Crisis Threatens over 40 Million Girls Worldwide with Child Marriage by 2050- Report

By March 31, 2024No Comments
The Malian Conflict has created a breeding ground for child marriage with climate change as a driver (c) World Vision

The number of girls at extreme risk of facing the double blow of climate change and child marriage is set to increase 33% to nearly 40 million by 2050, says a new study from Save the Children released on the eve of International Day of the Girl in 2023.

The Global Girlhood Report 2023 titled “Girls at the Centre of the Storm: Her Planet, her Future, her Solutions” – also shows that around two-thirds of child marriages happen in regions with higher-than-average climate risks, and notes that the climate crisis is already changing girls’ lives and futures.

In an exclusive interview with Timescape Magazine, Gabrielle Szabo, Save the Children’s global expert on girl’s rights said the study “identified hotspots’ where girls face the greatest combined risk of child marriage and climate disasters,” many of which are found in Sub Saharan Africa.

Following are excerpts of that conversation….

What were some of the most surprising/disturbing discoveries from the study?

The study identified ‘hotspots’ where girls face the greatest combined risk of child marriage and climate disasters. Many of these hotspots are in sub-Saharan Africa, in areas already suffering the worst of the current hunger crisis, particularly the Central Sahel Region (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) which is also impacted by conflict and ongoing instability. These countries have some of the youngest and fastest growing populations in the world – this makes them home to the girls who should be shaping the future of their communities and the climate response – instead these girls are growing up with the dual threat of child marriage and climate change and this is becoming a reality for many more girls. By 2050 the number of girls living in these climate hotspots is projected to increase by 1/3 to almost 40 million.

Bangladesh was also among the 10 worst hotspots for child marriage and climate risk, a country in a region that has led the world in decreasing rates of child marriage. Bangladesh has however suffered some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis. The impacts of the deepening climate crisis show just how fragile hard-won progress toward ending child marriage can be.

Gabrielle Szabo is Save the Children’s global expert and she has been extremely vocal in decrying the plight of children in conflict-ridden areas across Africa (c) Save the Children International

What is Save the Children doing to combat the rise in child marriage, especially when associated with climate change?

Save the Children delivers programming that promotes girls’ education, access to health and nutrition services and interventions to help keep them safe from violence. These efforts directly address risk factors for child marriage like being out-of-school, pregnant, living in poverty or at heightened risk of gender-based violence. The climate crisis means we need to shock-proof those services to ensure they can continue through climate disasters. In the Solomon Islands, a country heavily impacted by climate disasters with high rates of violence against women and girls, we are working with the Green Climate Fund to make infrastructure like schools more resilient to climate disasters so that they are less likely to have to close and to increase food and water security. This is the sort of programming we want to see governments investing in at scale, to get out ahead of disasters with anticipatory action to avoid the worst potential impacts for girls and their communities.

Ultimately, ending child marriage requires social norm change to create societies that value girls and their right to make decisions about their own lives. We are supporting girls to use their power to create that change in their communities through interventions that provide safe spaces where they can learn about the impacts of child marriage, discuss challenges and how they can work together to create the change they want to see. And we know that this works. While writing this report we heard from girls in drought-affected areas of Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Nepal who had worked with friends, community members and support programs to persuade their parents not to accept marriage proposals. All had gone on to become advocates, teaching girls and others in their communities about the benefits of staying in school, delaying marriage and how to fight for change. Ria, a girl we spoke to in Nepal was proud to share that since her children’s club started work to end child marriage their village had been officially declared ‘child marriage free’.

Tackling climate change in Niger has been greatly hampered by the armed conflict in the country (c) World Bank

What can global organizations like the UN do to help reverse the trends of child marriages, particularly how it relates to climate change?

The climate crisis is a crisis for girls’ rights and responses need to reflect that. When climate disasters strike schools close and girls are more likely never to return, the services they rely on to stay safe and prevent unintended pregnancies are interrupted, they face heightened risk of exploitation and other forms of gender-based violence in crowded shelters and as their families are forced to leave home often to migrate permanently. All these impacts hit family incomes, pushing them further into poverty and impossible choices between feeding their children and accepting proposals to marry their daughters.  Yet less than 2% of national climate plans mention girls and just 4% of climate finance projects include girls for investment or consultation. That has to change.

We want governments and UN agencies to look behind the headlines to the impacts that the climate crisis is having on girls. World leaders must include girls in climate response planning and back those plans up with funding, including for the losses and damage girls are already experiencing.

Building climate resilience in Niger requires the participation of all actors in the conflict to help protect the integrity of the girl child (c)

Is Save the Children conducting any other studies given the results of this one?

The child marriage-climate disaster hotspots identified in this report highlight the challenges that girls in fragile contexts like the Sahel Region are facing. Data and gaps on how on how to support married, divorced, widowed girls and those at risk of child marriage in contexts made fragile by climate disasters, economic shock and conflict are leaving this growing population of girls unprotected. Save the Children recognizes this need and will seek to work with local girls and women’s rights organizations, UN and government partners to better understand how to support girls in these contexts and develop guidelines to help ensure their rights.

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